Forty-seven Years of Research on the Devon Island Ice Cap, Arctic Canada

Keywords: Devon Island ice cap, Canadian Arctic, glaciology, ice dynamics, mass balance, climate change, tidewater, ice cores


The Devon Island ice cap has been the subject of scientific study for almost half a century, beginning with the first mass balance measurements in 1961. Research on the ice cap was the first to investigate (1) the role of meltwater in seasonal ice-velocity variations on a polythermal Arctic ice cap, (2) the use of air temperature rather than net radiation as a proxy for the energy driving surface melt, and (3) the influence of the changing frequency of specific synoptic weather configurations on glacier melt and mass balance. Other research has included investigations of ice cap geometry, flow dynamics, and mass balance; ice core analyses for records of past climate and contaminant deposition; and studies of changes in ice cap area and volume and their relationship to surface mass balance and ice dynamics. Current research includes ground studies connected to efforts to calibrate and validate the radar altimeter that will be carried by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) CryoSat2 satellite, and a major collaborative Canadian International Polar Year (IPY) project focused on the Belcher Glacier, on the northeast side of the ice cap, that examines hydrodynamics of large tidewater glaciers. This paper summarizes our current knowledge of the Devon Island ice cap and identifies some of the outstanding questions that continue to limit our understanding of climate-ice cap interactions in Arctic regions.