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Science

Rubber Ducks Help Track Melting Glaciers… Rubber Duck Duck

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Ever since I first saw Ernie and almost the entire felt-cast of Sesame Street do “The Rubber Duck, Duck” dance on Sesame Street, I have had a strange fascination with rubber ducks. They aren’t the common toy here in Australia that they appear to be elsewhere. And though looking back at that video now presents me with a bit of a moral and architectural dilemma, considering just how many people are naked together in that tub, my love for the rubber duck continues.

[social_buttons] And now, once again, the rubber duck is coming to the aid of science. US rocket scientist Alberto Behar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California has sent 90 rubber ducks into the Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland in an attempt to figure out what is happening inside Greenland’s fastest moving glacier.

The yellow rubber ducks are part of Beha’s experiment to determine why glaciers speed up in the summer. “Right now it’s not understood what causes the glaciers themselves to surge in the summer,” Behar said.

One theory as to why this happens is that the ice melting atop the glacier creates tubular holes in the glacier called moulins. Some of these moulins create holes that go straight through to the underside of the glacier, thus lubricating the glacier and speeding it on its way.

That’s where Beha’s ducks come into play, along with probe the size of a football. The probe, with GPS transmitter and instruments capable of shedding light on the innards of a glacier, along with the ducks, were dropped into a Moulin.

The ducks alone could tell a great story if found, and with each duck labeled with “science experiment” and “reward” in three different languages, as well as an e-mail address, people are sure to be looking for them. Beha is hoping to find the ducks somewhere in Baffin Bay. The ducks final location would tell scientists where the water from the glacier ended up.

“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,” said Beha referring to the ducks and the probe. “These are places that are quite remote so there aren’t people walking around.”

credit: Just Joe Online at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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