Science inside a glacier

Researchers have set up a laboratory inside a glacier called Svartisen, which is Norwegian for 'black ice'. Having a laboratory located inside the glacier allows them to make important discoveries.

12. apr 2007 00:00

Bre, brearm, isbre, Svartisen. FOTO: ERLEND HAARBERG/NN/SAMFOTO, NYSGJERRIGPER 2-07Scientists have built a laboratory inside Engabreen. This glacier is a 200-metre thick extension of the Svartis glacier in Nordland County. PHOTO: Erlend Haarberg/NN/Samfoto Engabreen is a 200-metre thick extension of the Svartis glacier in Nordland County. Svartisen is Norway's second largest glacier after Jostedalsbreen. The glacial melt water is collected through tunnels in the mountains and used to make power. Developers built a laboratory in the glacier at the same time as they built the tunnels. The laboratory has an exit right out onto the ice. By 'drilling' with hot water, scientists can make their own tunnels through the ice, so they can actually walk into the glacier itself. However, the tunnels melt quickly, so the researchers have to be fast. Most of the research takes place in winter, though, as there isn't so much melt water at that time of the year.

On the move

Glaciers are actually huge masses of snow and ice located on land, and they tend to move. However, different types of glaciers move in different ways. Engabreen moves with the help of the melt water under it.


The laboratory in Engabreen is the only one of its kind in the world. It gives scientists a unique opportunity to see how the glacier moves by studying it from below. When the glacier melts, the water runs to the bottom, down the sides of the mountains and away from the glacier. Both the water pressure and the way in which the water is conducted away from the glacier have a significant impact on how and how quickly a glacier moves.

Water can lift a giant

Engabreen moves a bit faster than it would have, had it simply been sliding across the mountain because of the melt water. Researchers now know why. It turns out that if there is more melt water than the glacier can manage to channel away, the water pressure will rise so much that the glacier will be lifted up from the terrain under it. This sort of 'super lift' takes place nearly every day during the summer months, and it can last for as long as nine hours. Such lifts make the glacier move a little faster.

Translated by Linda Sivesind

*Published in 'Nysgjerrigper' no. 2/07*