Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on TwitterNASA scientists have dropped 90 yellow rubber ducks into holes in Greenland’s Jakobshavn glacier in an attempt to understand why glaciers speed up during summer months as they slip into the sea. The ducks, attached to a football-sized probe, have an email address and message prompting anyone who discovers the ducks to contact NASA to reveal where and when the duck was found. There is an undisclosed award for anyone who finds one of these rubber global warming crusaders. The NASA scientists, based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, hope this campaign will shed new light on the melting mechanisms behind Greenland’s fastest moving glacier…
This story brings back memories of when 30,000 rubber ducks were washed off a cargo ship bound for the US from China back in 1992. Since then, these intrepid explorers have travelled on the world’s ocean currents, ending up as far afield as the middle of the Pacific to the coast of England. Although they have lost their yellow colouring after years of high seas and Sun damage, the duck-shaped pieces of plastic have provided scientists with a valuable insight into ocean circulation and are still found on beaches today. They have also become a commodity (changing hands for over Â£500 or $1000), been the focus of children’s story books and provided data for a computer model called the Ocean Surface Currents Simulation (used to help fisheries and find people lost at sea). So, in the footsteps of their forefathers, these new NASA rubber recruits hope to provide climatologists with information about the current global warming trend and impacts on polar ice.
Alberto Behar, one of the JPL scientists working with the army of rubber ducks explains, “Right now it’s not understood what causes the glaciers themselves to surge in the summer.” The rubber ducks will help to tackle this problem by carrying a probe with them so their progress can be tracked via GPS. The football sized probe will also relay information about the glacier’s innards as the rubber ducks flow with the ice into the sea.
So far, nobody has reported finding a duck or a probe, but Behar is hopeful that a fisherman or hunter might do in the near future. “We haven’t heard back but it may take some time until somebody actually finds it and decides to send us an e-mail that they have found it,” he said. “These are places that are quite remote so there aren’t people walking around.” Let’s hope the promise of a reward will be enough incentive for the finder to make contact with NASA (otherwise we might see them being advertised on eBay for Â£500 or $1000…).
The Jakobshavn Glacier is famous in its own right. The iceberg that sank the Titanic in 1912 is thought to originate from it and the glacier has a phenomenal ice discharge rate today, responsible for nearly 7% of the ice flowing from Greenland.