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Cryospheric Sciences

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This guest post was contributed by a scientist, student or a professional in the Earth, planetary or space sciences. The EGU blogs welcome guest contributions, so if you've got a great idea for a post or fancy trying your hand at science communication, please contact the blog editor or the EGU Communications Officer Laura Roberts Artal to pitch your idea.

The art of surviving a week of conferencing

The art of surviving a week of conferencing

Hello everyone! My name is Kathi Unglert and I’m a PhD student in volcanology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I will be reporting for the Cryospheric Sciences blog during the upcoming EGU General Assembly as part of the “Student Reporter Programme”. With the meeting only a few days away, I thought I’d put together a quick guide how to make the most out of a whole week of conferencing. Hopefully you’ll find it useful! So here we go:

Preparation

Usually I would tell you to start your conference preparation way before the conference. Many conferences have a short course/field trip/professional development program around the actual conference dates. These things fill up fast, so look at the program and decide what you want to do early on (and sign up!). Often these events have discounts if you sign up early, so that’s another bonus. However, given that it’s only 3 days before the meeting starts I guess we’ll skip this step. So here’s what’s next:

Decide on a theme

Conferences are really bad for people like me, who sometimes try to do everything. There are so many opportunities and interesting things going that it’s usually impossible to take advantage of everything. The first step can be to choose a few sessions and sit all the way through them, instead of picking individual talks. You avoid running around trying to find rooms at the last minute, missing half of the talk you really wanted to see because the previous one in a different room ran late, and often the talks with the least appealing titles turn out to be the best. It can also help to identify a theme for the conference. For example for this EGU General Assembly my theme will be – you guessed it – science communication! I will leave my usual field (volcanology) and try out the mostly unknown, cold waters of cryospheric sciences. I am hoping to learn lots of new concepts that may apply to my own field. I will also do my best to view everything from a reporter’s perspective and relay anything I deem cool or fun or important to you! I might try to get into a few press conferences, and go to some of the “Meet the Editor” meetings. So much to do! Of course your “theme decision” doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything outside of the theme, it just helps to focus your attention and time. Need some inspiration to decide on your theme for EGU? Why not check out this early career guide, or some of the short courses!

Do some pre-conference research

There might be a person attending the conference with exactly the kind of job you could see yourself in. Or the researcher who came up with this awesome method that you’ve been using already, but that you still have some questions about. Or your friend from your undergrad who now lives on a different continent and whom you haven’t seen in 3 years. There are lots of reasons to look at the conference program ahead of time. When you see somebody in the program that you would like to meet, get in touch with them before the conference, and maybe you can arrange a meeting over a coffee, in a specific session, or over dinner (see Have fun).

Check for volunteering options

Some conferences give students the opportunity to get involved. That could for example be a contribution to the planning of the actual meeting, or some student or social events around it, which of course works well if the meeting is happening close to where you live. Another option is to volunteer your time during the conference. At EGU, my reporter role is a voluntary gig that I was more than happy to apply for. I’ve been interested in science communication for a while, so it seemed like a great opportunity to try out what it’s like being an “actual” reporter, and write about things way outside of my field. Plus, I might meet some famous reporters and bug them with lots of questions if I can – what’s not to like? The networking aspect opens up another topic:

Bring business cards

You might think that as a student why would I need a business card? Turns out it’s maybe even more important as a student than at a later stage (despite the fact that you don’t have a business…). Networking is all about being interested in other people, them being interested in you, and most importantly to leave a lasting impression. You never know when you might meet a person again, and in what situation. That doesn’t just apply to professionals in your field who are higher up the food chain, but even more so to your fellow students. They will be your future colleagues, and relationships between colleagues – even in different disciplines – can go a long way. I’ve been to many conferences before, and never thought about the business card thing. Man, do I wish I had. How many times have you been at a conference, awkwardly scribbling down somebody’s email address on a random piece of paper, only to lose it or to be unable to read your own writing after the fact? Business cards are a simple, tidy way to keep track of all the people you meet over the course of a conference, and a great way for them to remember you, too.

Wear your name badge somewhere easily visible

When I went to my first conference as a wee Master’s student, I thought it was maybe not super fashionable how everyone runs around with a badge around their neck. Turns out it’s actually super important. You want people you meet to have a visual of your name, to help you to leave a potentially lasting impression. That applies even more when you have somewhat complicated/foreign/rare name (I can’t expect non-German speakers to automatically make the connection from the spoken “Ka-tee” to the written “Kathi”, but I also refuse to anglicize my name. The name tag does help…). Also, for the slightly not so tall ones among us, it’s good to tie a knot into the lanyard or pin your badge to the side of your scarf or the collar of your shirt. Nothing more awkward than somebody having to bent down in front of your crotch to read your name…

Follow up

That one is a simple one – when you meet somebody interesting make sure to follow up with a short email on the day, just to refresh their memory. Following up, of course, requires some time in the evening set aside for that purpose, which leads to this:

Say no

Sometimes you’ll have to say no. There are so many things going on at conferences, from project meetings through evening receptions and dinners/drinks with old and new friends. Once in a while it’s good to say no. Set aside 1-2 hours in the evening to be able to wind down, process all the awesome experiences, and follow up on anything that the day brought (see Follow up).

Say yes

 Sometimes you’ll have to say yes. There will always be surprises, opportunities you didn’t expect. Show your face at the reception you’ve been invited to, even if it’s only for an hour or so. Go to sessions that you wouldn’t usually go to because it’s completely out of your field. I went to a lunchtime presentation about Spacecraft Landing Site Identification on Mars at a conference a few years ago, and learned that they use some of the same methodology that I use, despite a complete lack of overlap of my research with theirs. How cool is that? For this EGU, I highly recommend socializing with some fellow early career cryosphere people at our “Icy Outing” (more info here)!

Last but not least, the most important thing:

Have fun!

Yes, the conference is the reason why your supervisor paid for your flight, your hotel, and your food. But that doesn’t mean that you have to exhaust yourself to the point of collapse by day 3, when the conference lasts for another 2 days. Instead, pick a morning or afternoon with somewhat less relevant sessions and explore Vienna. Go to a museum. Take in all the history. Walk in Empress Sisi’s footsteps. Or do some shopping for the upcoming summer. Sit down in one of the many amazing coffee shops and enjoy your obligatory “Wiener Melange”. Use some time to catch up with old friends at a “Heuriger” or grab some food. If you don’t know what any of these words mean, look them up right now! Another great thing to do is spending some time getting to know new people. At a conference a few years ago, I went to a tweet-up, for example. Someone had booked a table at a pub close to the convention center, and invited fellow science-y social media people to meet up, where people only knew each other from Twitter or their respective blogs.

Doing all these things is a great way to wind down a bit (see Say no), to be refreshed after a little break and to take in more science in the following sessions. Conferences are so much more fun if you put a little bit of effort into spending time away from the meeting itself! I can’t wait to learn about more exciting science, meet fascinating people, and catch up with old and new friends during EGU!­

(Modified from a post originally published on Oct 26, 2014 on http://volcano-diaries.blogspot.com)

Edited by Sophie Berger, Emma Smith and Nanna Karlsson


Kathi Unglert is a PhD student in volcanology at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Her work looks at volcanic tremor, a special type of earthquake that tends to happen just before or during volcanic eruptions. She uses pattern recognition algorithms to compare tremor from many volcanoes to identify systematic similarities or differences. This comparison may help to determine the mechanisms causing this type earthquake, and could contribute to improved eruption forecasting. You can find her on Twitter (@volcanokathi) or read her volcano blog.profile_highres_EarthMatters_light

Image of The Week – When Glaciers Fertilize Oceans

Image of The Week – When Glaciers Fertilize Oceans

Today’s Image of the Week shows meltwaters originating from Leverett Glacier pouring over a waterfall in southwest Greenland. We have previously reported on how meItwater is of interest to Glaciologist (e.g. here) but today we are going to delve into how and why Biologists also study these meltwaters and how the cryosphere interacts with biogeochemical cycles in our oceans.

Figure 2: Location of Leverett Glacier. The glacier drains an area of 600 km2 of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Adapated from Hawkings et al. (2014) .

Where?

Leverett Glacier of the Greenland ice sheet (Fig. 2) discharges around 2 km3 of water a year from its 600 km2 catchment area. This single meltwater river has previously reached 800 m3 sec-1 at peak flow in the summer (in 2012; for contrast the Danube average flow is roughly 2000 m3 sec-1 as it passes through Budapest). These meltwaters are sediment rich and occur not just at Leverett but at hundreds of glaciers across the Greenland ice sheet, dumping a total of more than 400 billion tons of water in the oceans each year; a number than has risen steeply in recent years due to the rapidly warming Arctic climate. Relatively little is known about how this large seasonal input of glacial water may impact ocean life.

How?

Over the past few years fieldwork teams have visited Leverett Glacier each season to give us an insight into the importance of the Greenland ice sheet in supplying ecosystems with nutrients. To address this question they collect lots of water and sediment samples to analyse (using special instrument back in labs at The Universities of Bristol, Southampton and Leeds) and install semi-permanent sensors to see what’s happening to the river in real time (Fig 3).

These sensors record water temperature, depth, sediment concentrations and the amount of dissolved solids. This comprehensive dataset has provided a really nice picture of the system and the changes occurring at a high temporal resolution. They have also been testing cutting edge sensor technologies to measure things like nitrate and methane in the water more recently and, of course, they took some great drone footage of their work.

Figure 3: Semi-permanent sensor monitoring water temperature, depth, sediment concentrations and the amount of dissolved solids in glacial meltwaters from Leverett Glacier, Greenland (credit: Jon Hawkings).

Figure 3: Semi-permanent sensor monitoring water temperature, depth, sediment concentrations and the amount of dissolved solids in glacial meltwaters from Leverett Glacier, Greenland (credit: Jon Hawkings).

What’s Happening?

These studies have found that glaciated regions, such as Greenland, are likely to be dumping large quantities of nutrients such as phosphorus, iron and silica into the polar oceans, feeding life at the bottom of the food chain and contributing to ecosystem health. This challenges the traditional view that ice sheets are relatively unimportant in biogeochemical cycles compared to other terrestrial environments.

Glaciers are like giant bulldozers crushing rock into finely ground rock dust as they move – it is this dust that give glacial meltwaters their milky colour. Water flowing below the ice, dissolves the minerals in the freshly crushed rock and transports them out into the oceans. These minerals provide nutrients that act as a fertilizer for ocean life – phytoplankton, the microscopic plants of the ocean, need rock derived nutrients to grow. These little guys are really important for the health of our planet. They form the base of the ocean food chain, and photosynthesise thus potentially capturing CO2 from the atmosphere. As glaciated regions like Greenland dump more meltwater into the oceans it is possible more nutrients could also be delivered, although more research needs to be conducted to ascertain if this is the case.

Want to find out more?

  • Hawkings et al. (2014) Ice sheets as a significant source of highly reactive nanoparticulate iron to the oceans, Nature Communications, 5.
  • Lawson et al. (2014) Greenland Ice Sheet exports labile organic carbon to the Arctic oceans, Biogeosciences, 11(14): 4015-4028.
  • Hawkings et al. (2015) The effect of warming climate on nutrient and solute export from the Greenland Ice Sheet, Geochemical Perspectives Letters, 1: 94-104
  • Hawkings et al. (2016) The Greenland Ice Sheet as a hotspot of phosphorus weathering and export in the Arctic, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 30: 191-210

Edited by Emma Smith


About Jon Hawkings:

Jon Hawkings is a post-doctoral research associate at the School of Geographical Sciences, in the University of Bristol. His research focuses on the biogeochemistry of the coldest areas of our planet. Specifically he is looking at the impact that melting ice sheets may be having on downstream and marine ecosystems. He enjoys working in some of the most inhospitable and challenging environments – pretty much all of his data stems from samples collected in the field. He tweets as @jonnyhawkings.

Sunshine, ice cores, buckets and ALE: Antarctic Fieldwork

Sunshine, ice cores, buckets and ALE: Antarctic Fieldwork

My Antarctic adventure started from Punta Arenas at the bottom of Chile, opposite Tierra del Fuego, on New Years Eve 2014 after a long journey from Heathrow via São Paulo and Santiago.

Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas is even quieter than usual on New Year's Day. (Credit: M. Millman)

Punta Arenas is even quieter than usual on New Year’s Day. (Credit: M. Millman)

Punta Arenas is where Shackleton organised the rescue of his men from Elephant Island after his voyage to South Georgia in the James Caird. It is also where I met my PhD supervisors Chris Fogwill and Chris Turney for the first time, along with ancient-DNA expert Alan Cooper. Punta is the base for Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE), who are part funding my PhD and supporting me and my supervisors in the field.

Off to Antarctica…

Arriving at Union Glacier on the Ilyushin. (Credit: H. Millman)

Arriving at Union Glacier on the Ilyushin. (Credit: H. Millman)

After a couple of days in Punta Arenas, when the weather was right, we boarded an Ilyushin and flew the 4.5 hours to ALE’s base at Union Glacier in the Ellsworth Mountains. The Ilyushin is a big, rough-and-ready Russian transport plane equipped with an emergency rope instead of inflatable slides. We sat in the front half of the cabin and the back was packed with fuel and supplies for the base.

Union Glacier is a hub for an assortment of mountaineers, explorers, tourists and scientists. By Antarctic standards the base is very luxurious, with toilet blocks and even showers. Our bags were taken from the Ilyushin and were waiting for us outside our clamshell tent: “Scott”. All the tents are named after polar explorers and they have proper camp beds and solid floors inside. With regular Ilyushin flights, there is plenty of fresh food and the chefs cook fabulous breakfasts, lunches and suppers. The mix of people coming and going means that there are plenty of interesting stories to hear at mealtimes.

Union Glacier base. (Credit: H. Millman)

Union Glacier base. (Credit: H. Millman)

There was an American military man who had parachuted out of an Ilyushin to the North Pole, a cancer survivor who was trekking to the pole to raise millions of pounds for Cancer Research and lots of people who had climbed six of the seven summits and were in Antarctica to climb Mt Vinson, the last of the seven.

The fieldwork

Map showing the Patriot Hills and Union Glacier. It took about 20 minutes for the Twin Otter to reach the Patriot Hills from Union Glacier base. (Credit: H. Millman)

Map showing the Patriot Hills and Union Glacier. It took about 20 minutes for the Twin Otter to reach the Patriot Hills from Union Glacier base. (Credit: H. Millman)

Good weather meant that we couldn’t enjoy Union Glacier for long and soon the Twin Otter was loaded with all our equipment and the four of us were flown out to our field site: the Patriot Hills in the Horseshoe Valley.

The deep blue colour of the ice is visible looking down the core hole. (Credit: H. Millman)

The deep blue colour of the ice is visible looking down the core hole. (Credit: H. Millman)

The Horseshoe Valley is at the end of the Heritage Range, close to the grounding line in the Weddell Sea. Katabatic winds blowing down the side of the Patriot Hills have caused a blue ice area to form. The chance to sample the old ice, which comes to the surface in these areas, is what brought us to Antarctica. Over the next few weeks we drilled a snow/firn core, and ice cores in the blue ice area. Surface samples were collected by Professor Chris Turney, crawling 1.6 km on his knees as though trying to appease the God of the Glacier, with a cordless drill from a DIY store.

Once we get back to the lab, the samples will be analysed for trace gases, isotopes, tephra and ancient DNA. From this data we are hoping to extract a climate record reaching back to the Last Interglacial (~135 – 116 ka). I will then use this record, along with other proxy records and GCM outputs, to drive the PISM-PIK ice sheet model. This will help to answer the main question of my PhD, which is: What was the Antarctic contribution to sea level rise during the Last Interglacial? Global average temperatures during the Last Interglacial were 1-2°C warmer than pre-industrial times. As we move into a similar climate today, the past can be used as a process analogue for what might happen in the coming decades.

Drilling using a Kovacs corer. Here I'm wearing 3 coats: a light down jacket, a soft windproof shell, and my big down jacket on the top. I'm also wearing down trousers over my salopettes. It's quite windy on the blue ice, so it can feel very cold. (Credit: H. Millman)

Drilling using a Kovacs corer. Here I’m wearing 3 coats: a light down jacket, a soft windproof shell, and my big down jacket on the top. I’m also wearing down trousers over my salopettes. It’s quite windy on the blue ice, so it can feel very cold. (Credit: H. Millman)

A digression on “everyday” life in Antarctica…

Our small camp in the Horseshoe Valley. (Credit: H. Millman)

Our small camp in the Horseshoe Valley. (Credit: H. Millman)

We set up our camp a little way away from the blue ice to avoid the worst of the katabatic winds. Camp consisted of a big mess tent and 3 sleeping tents. Fogwill and me had our own tents, but Turney and Cooper had to share. Turney and Cooper were struck down with colds and we took extra care to disinfect or quarantine anything the infected had touched because having a cold in Antarctica is a thoroughly miserable experience. Fortunately, we had lots of hot, hearty meals because ALE had sent us off with excellent frozen meals cooked by their chefs. We had curries, lasagna, stews, bread rolls and cake, and we only had to eat de-hy for lunch. The only food I missed was raw carrots.

Women - Pee here! (Credit: H. Millman)

Women – Pee here! (Credit: H. Millman)

For obvious reasons, snow for drinking water was collected up-glacier of the camp, and the latrine was located down-glacier. We took it in turns to collect and melt snow for drinking water. Our toilet tent had about 3 or 4 different incarnations as storms buried our previous efforts. By the end, we found the best design was dug down about 1 m, with snow blocks and fuel barrels around it supporting a wooden board and a sheet of tarpaulin. This stopped snow getting in during a storm, but the tarpaulin could also be wrapped around your neck so that one’s body could appreciate the warmth rising up from the latrine, while keeping one’s nose out in the fresh air. All waste is collected in containers so that it can be flown out to Chile on the next Ilyushin- all human waste has to be removed from Antarctica. Since the men have the advantage of being able to wee straight into the pee barrel, ALE kindly supplied me with my very own wee bucket, which I was extremely grateful for, particularly after an unpleasant incident with a SheWee at 3am, during a storm.

The good weather meant that we were able to work most days. We had a couple of stormy days which allowed us to rest, read, listen to music, tidy down the camp, and recharge our batteries (literally). Electrical things aren’t at their happiest in the Antarctic cold. My iPod wiped itself in the last week and we had to hug our laptops inside our jackets to keep them warm enough to hold some charge.

…back to reality

Once we’d collected all of our samples, it was time to leave the Patriot Hills and return to Union Glacier. We started packing things away while we were waiting for the Iridium call from the base, not knowing whether the Twin Otter would arrive that afternoon or tomorrow or the day after, or the day after that. We got the call and the Twin Otter was already on its way. A mad rush followed as we had to quickly but carefully dig out all of our tents from weeks’ worth of icy snow and pack them away. The plane landed less than 30 minutes later with the ALE guides who were going to take our skidoos back. With their help, we soon had everything loaded onto the plane, with just enough room for the four of us to squeeze in like sardines.

Quickly packing up our camp because the Twin Otter has just arrived to take us back to Union Glacier base. (Credit: H. Millman)

Quickly packing up our camp because the Twin Otter has just arrived to take us back to Union Glacier base. (Credit: H. Millman)

Returning to the civilisation of Union Glacier was very exciting, especially seeing other people for the first time. I’m usually quite a shy and quiet person, but all reserve vanished in my first hours back on the base as I enthusiastically bounded up to strangers and asked to hear their life stories. The first wash was also fantastic. My hair had been a solid greasy mass of nastiness for weeks and having it back to its fluffy state was a joy. While we waited for a weather window so that the Ilyushin could come and collect us, we sub-sampled our snow/firm core, mended our tents and organised which equipment would be staying in Antarctica and what we’d be taking back. While we were doing this, ALE were starting to pack away Union Glacier base for the winter.

We flew back to Punta on the penultimate Ilyushin of the season, so most of the other passengers were the staff. Everyone was sad to leave, but looking forward to seeing family and friends at home after months away. On returning from Antarctica, even the quiet town of Punta was an assault on the senses. The only smells in Antarctica are cooking, skidoo fumes and the latrine, so when we arrived back the smell of soil and vegetation seemed really strong. It took a few days to readjust to cars, dark nights, proper beds, baths, flushing toilets, running water, central heating, mobile signal, internet, televisions and unlimited electricity. Leaving civilisation was easier than returning to it.

Ice cores waiting for check-in at Punta Arenas airport. We wouldn't see them again until we landed in Sydney. (Credit: H. Millman)

Ice cores waiting for check-in at Punta Arenas airport. We wouldn’t see them again until we landed in Sydney. (Credit: H. Millman)

Our ice cores were stored in a refrigerated lorry back until our flight to Sydney via Santiago and Auckland. Although the cores were in special insulated boxes, the long flight with connections to the heat of a Sydney summer was very stressful. The previous season a box had been left behind at Auckland airport, resulting in a very expensive puddle. This year we were lucky and all boxes arrived at the other end and the unscathed cores were transferred to the freezers at UNSW. Now the hard work begins!

Chris Turney at the end of the 1.6 km transect. (Credit: H. Millman)

Chris Turney at the end of the 1.6 km transect. (Credit: H. Millman)

More information:

Project website: http://ellsworthmountains.com/index.html

Short videos from the field can be viewed on Chris Turney’s Vine page:
https://vine.co/u/1021019438360739840

Edited by Sophie Berger and Nanna Karlsson


About Helen Millman: 
After completing a BSc in Geography at Swansea University and a Glaciology MSc at Aberystwyth University, Helen moved from her native Devon in south-west England to Australia to start her PhD at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Her research focuses on modelling Antarctic ice sheet dynamics during the Last Interglacial using data from ice cores, as well as outputs from the CSIRO Mk3L GCM to drive the Potsdam Parallel Ice Sheet Model (PISM-PIK). She is supervised by Chris Fogwill and Chris Turney at UNSW, Steven Phipps at the University of Tasmania and Nick Golledge at Victoria University in Wellington. You can follow Helen on Twitter @helenmillman (https://twitter.com/helenmillman).

Filling the Gap between Science and Politics

Have you ever wondered how results from scientific studies make their way into policy and influence government decisions? Read about the experiences of Sammie Buzzard, University of Reading, who spent her summer working for a government body in Westminster, London, UK.

This summer I had the opportunity to take some time away from my usual Ph.D. work and spend 3 months working for the Government Office for Science in London, or ‘GO Science’ as it is known. My placement was made possible by a scheme set up by the UK research councils that allows PhD researchers to spend some time in a policy organisation. Through this, researchers can gain an insight into how science fits into policy and pick up new skills in areas such as communication and managing multiple tasks. In return, the policy organisations get some insight into how academics think and some of the cutting edge science that is currently going on.

View from my window: Westminster Abbey. Credit: S. Buzzard.

View from my window: Westminster Abbey. Credit: S. Buzzard.

What is the Government Office for Science?

Based in Westminster in the heart of London’s political centre, GO Science exists to ensure that the UK Government’s policies and decisions are informed by the best scientific evidence. It is headed up by Sir Mark Walport, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, whose role is to advise the Prime Minister and Cabinet. GO Science works to ensure and improve the quality and use of scientific evidence and advice in government. They also provide scientific advice in the case of emergencies, through the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). This includes international emergencies, such as advising the government on their response to the ebola crisis for example.

Becoming a specialist whether you want to or not…

One thing that really surprised me about GO Science was the number of people with a scientific background who work there. There were many people with PhDs and several who had done post-doctoral positions before joining the GO Science. This combination of scientific thinkers and those who had come from many different backgrounds, including career civil servants, means that there are a great range of skills available. If you find that you are not so good at something or are nervous about writing a briefing, there will always be someone who will be willing to go through it with you. It also means that with the number of contacts that the office have, both in academia and industry, expert advice can be found on virtually any area.

It also means though that if you have a scientific specialism then you have to be prepared to be asked all about it. The Chief Scientific Adviser had recently been in Svalbard and this led to me being asked a whole range of questions from whether or not he has to have an armed guard when in the Arctic to the state of the sea ice. The fact I do mainly care (at least for now) about the South Pole did not matter!

Sammie Buzzard in her more usual surroundings as a sea ice scientist. Credit: S. Buzzard.

Sammie Buzzard in her more usual surroundings as a glaciologist. Credit: S. Buzzard.

Fortunately, I was also given the opportunity to present my own work on the surface melt lakes on the Larsen C Ice Shelf to my colleagues. For me, this was a hugely valuable opportunity to communicate my research to a mixed audience and get some unexpected questions from the fresh viewpoints that those from outside of glaciology can provide.

… a specialist in many subjects!

One of the main differences I found from my normal day job as a PhD researcher was the variety of topics and responsibilities. My work covered subjects as diverse as finance, biological materials and technologies of the future. I had the chance to experience several different areas of work, from writing briefing notes for the chief scientist, to helping check facts for a presentation on energy that he was giving to the public. It was very different to PhD life in that I would often have several pieces of work ongoing in completely different areas and often for different people, so it involved a lot more juggling of tasks than my average day buried in Matlab code.

Although it was a challenge to have to learn so much about subjects I knew very little about very quickly but one which I enjoyed and a useful skill that I will take away with me. I particularly enjoyed the chance to work for the Council for Science and Technology, a group of hugely influential people who provide high level advice to the Prime Minister. The group consists of university vice chancellors, business leaders and the heads of learned societies and seeing the ways in which they work and make decisions was fascinating.

An additional thing that I found very different to academia was the level of accountability for my work. If my PhD work goes wrong then ultimately it is my responsibility but at GO Science often more than one person would check a piece I wrote before it was passed on or sent out. This did make me feel much more confident in my work knowing I was not going to put anything completely ridiculous in front of chief scientific adviser, but I did begin to miss being able to choose and have responsibility for the direction of my own work in the way that I have with my PhD.

What is next?

I would highly recommend opportunities like this for other PhD students, or scientists at any stage in their career. Knowing where the work that we do ultimately is going and what policy makers care about is incredibly useful. Researchers can also work in Parliament and non-government organisations such as the British Library and the Royal Society. The scheme has recently recruited for next year’s interns and applications normally open each summer for the next year’s intake.

Although I plan to continue in research after I finish my PhD the skills I gained from my time out will definitely be useful far beyond writing up, which I now really must get back to…

Edited by Nanna Karlsson


Sammie Buzzard is a PhD student in the department of Meteorology at the University of Reading. After completing a Master’s degree in mathematics she is now researching surface melt on the Larsen C Ice Shelf. She blogs about polar science, life as a PhD student and cake (because cake is essential for research) at Ice and Icing and can be found tweeting at @treacherousbuzz.

Riding the Storm: The Arctic Circle Traverse 2015

Riding the Storm: The Arctic Circle Traverse 2015

In the morning on the 19th of May, we – the Arctic Circle Traverse 2015 – found ourselves in a great dilemma; to stay or to go? On our check-in conversation with the KISS crew, we were informed that an east front from Kulusuk was expected to hit our location up on the ice sheet sometime in the afternoon. The relatively low winds that we were experiencing would get stronger, and the visibility would reduce even more. The past couple of days at Saddle, we had experienced nothing but strong winds and snow drift. First, it had been a warm front from the west. The next day we were hit by a cold front from southeast. The orientation of our camp did not matter anymore; everything was snowed in. Having completed all our tasks at Saddle, our second-to-last location, we were ready to traverse to Dye-2, our final stop. We had a few more tasks to complete there, before we return to Kangerlussuaq and after a total of three weeks traversing the ice sheet.

Evening hours after our arrival at Saddle on the 16th of May. Credit: Babis Charalampidis.

Evening hours after our arrival at Saddle on the 16th of May. Credit: Babis Charalampidis.

The advantages of traversing that day were plenty: We would reach our final destination, while keep being ahead of schedule. Setting camp next to the airway at Dye-2 meant that even if that forecasted east front was to last for days, we would be able once it passes to complete our work, and get off of the ice sheet with the first flight out. Shane and I were also planning to drill one extra firn core about 30 kilometers northeast from Dye-2, and the sooner we reached the old radar station, the better the odds for performing the drilling. Also, Achim’s commercial flight back to Europe was booked for the 26th of May, and missing that was not an option. The disadvantages? Just one really: There was a front coming.

After weighing all the above, we decided to take advantage of this small window of opportunity, and attempt the 100 kilometer traverse. Considering the northeast heading until Dye-2, we would have the frontal activity on our backs. Perhaps we would even arrive there before the storm. We finished with our breakfast and started packing the camp for our last traverse. After about three hours of intense shoveling, disassembling and packing everything on the sleds, we were ready to go.

It was early afternoon when our thumbs hit the throttles of our ski-doos. Everybody made sure to be dressed up warmly. Our outfits had to be as airtight as possible, allowing only a few holes to breathe from. Max was leading our convoy into the fog, with visibility being about 50 meters of field overview. We decided to keep close to one another, with our speed regulated to 25 kilometers per hour. It would take us about 4.5 hours until Dye-2, including two 15-minute stops. Having the wind on our backs made the journey comfortable, enjoyable even. On our first stop for a snack, 30 kilometers in, the enthusiasm was apparent on everyone’s face. So far, so good.

Traversing from EKT (FirnCover project) to NASA-SE (GC-Net) on the 10th of May. Credit: Babis Charalampidis.

Traversing from EKT (FirnCover project) to NASA-SE (GC-Net) on the 10th of May. Credit: Babis Charalampidis.

Continuing the traverse, I was still riding on the back seat of the “Euro-Ski-Doo”. Achim was always the one to begin a traverse and I would take over halfway through. It was not more than five kilometers since our first stop when I felt a huge wind gust from my right side. And then another. And another. Soon enough, it was just a constant force on my side that I had to struggle against. Max was dragging two sleds with his ski-doo. I could now only see the very last one, just a few meters away.

We kept the pace through the wind, and about 35 kilometers away from our destination, we had the second break. I stopped the ski-doo and smoked a cigarette while the rest had a snack and some water. It looked as if the atmosphere got a bit clearer, giving the illusion that this might have been it. I finished the smoke, grabbed a couple of biscuits, and jumped again on the driver’s seat. Contrary to what we had hoped, the wind got even stronger. Snow storm was now hitting us and the visibility was terrible.

You enter some sort of trance when riding the storm. The reality around you becomes a vail so thick that it minimizes your perception and challenges your comfort zone, but curiously enough without suffocating you. Soon, however – provided the cold is not getting to you – the snow and wind becomes what can only be described as a “white dream”. All you have to or can do is float in it. I found myself being concentrated on small details for prolonged periods, the trembling speedometer, and the sound of the engine or the shallow beam of my headlights. These details become somehow important once there is nothing else out there. I tried to stimulate my thoughts by keeping an eye on Shane and Mike’s sled, whenever I could see it, make sure nothing falls off. It felt almost like waking up when Achim knocked my shoulder. The cold got him. We switched seats again.

Darren pushing forward: Departure from KAN_U (PROMICE network) 6th of May. Credit: Babis Charalampidis.

Darren pushing forward: Departure from KAN_U (PROMICE network) 6th of May. Credit: Babis Charalampidis.

It was not the first time I had arrived at Dye-2, but it was definitely the most peculiar one. This huge construction in the middle of the ice sheet is usually visible from tens of kilometers distance. This time, we were less than two kilometers away and I could not see it. Somewhere inside the distorted from the storm atmosphere, we could see another camp, another group of researchers, possibly. We wasted no time with setting our tents as we were eager to take shelter after the long hours in the storm. The teamwork that had gotten us so far these past two weeks peaked in a remarkable way, with Max leading the efforts. After an hour or so, while finishing with our camp, two researchers from the other camp came to greet us. They were bundled up and wore masks. I recognized one from his eyes, as I had met with him in Kangerlussuaq three weeks before. They said they hoped to catch the next flight out of the ice.

Our stay at Dye-2 was again very successful. All scheduled tasks were completed within 12 hours the second day after our arrival, and we even got to retrieve and log one extra firn core. That day, the other science group departed for Kangerlussuaq. On the evening of the third day, after logging the last core, we were able to relax a bit and visit the old radar station. It felt good to be there again. Shane and Mike managed to enter the side-dome. I was just glad to get to enjoy the view from the top once again.

Setting the last tent – the latrine tent – at Dye-2 on the 20th of May. Credit: Babis Charalampidis.

Setting the last tent – the latrine tent – at Dye-2 on the 20th of May. Credit: Babis Charalampidis.

Back in Kangerlussuaq, we were excited to find ourselves minutes away from a nice, long shower. We got a bit disappointed when Kathy Young told us that the local market was closed – being White Monday and all – and we could not buy beer. She asked us how everything went. We replied that we were really successful, completing more than our scheduled tasks, and that we were really surprised with how smooth everything went finally. We definitely had favorable weather most of the time, and we managed to take advantage of it. She laughed a bit, and said that we definitely impressed with our performance. We didn’t get it, and then she explained that the other science group from Dye-2 kept talking about our arrival in the middle of the storm and our casual camp establishment, like there’s nothing going on, while they had been in the tents due to the weather for days. We felt quite flattered by that, however we didn’t really have a choice. It didn’t feel casual either.

Two days later, we were on the move again, this time with an icelandic Twin Otter, visiting for one more week the northern locations of the FirnCover project. We established the remaining firn compaction stations, and retrieved several more firn cores. Favorable weather conditions were instrumental for the success of this year’s Arctic Circle Traverse. After all, that’s the most important factor up on the ice sheet. A skillful team, with which you can always push some more is the other. I am glad I was one sixth of it.

Arctic Circle Traverse 2015. Credit: Babis Charalampidis.

Arctic Circle Traverse 2015. Credit: Babis Charalampidis.

Edited by Nanna Karlsson and Sophie Berger


Babis Charalampidis (GEUS/Uppsala University) is an Uppsala University PhD student within the SVALI project, based at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland and supervised by Dirk van As. He is interested in the Greenland ice sheet’s mass budget, particularly the link between energy balance and subsurface processes such as percolation and refreezing. He studies the changes of the lower accumulation area of the southwest of the ice sheet in a warming climate, based on in situ observations.

Read Babis’s story of his fieldwork last year here.

Karthaus Summer School 2015

Karthaus Summer School 2015

After a train, the London Underground, another train, a flight, three more trains and a taxi (shared with people I had met on my way); I had arrived in a small Alpine village in the very north of Italy.

The cross on Kreuz Spitze. (Credit: I. Nias)

The cross on Kreuz Spitze. (Credit: I. Nias)

The reason for this rather convoluted journey?

To attend the Karthaus Summer School on ice sheets and glaciers in the climate system. I’m pleased to say it was definitely worth the trip getting there!

Nearly every September for the last 20 years, around 35 glaciology students from all around the globe descend on the village of Karthaus for 10 days to learn about all things icy. This year we were a mixture of mostly PhD students, a few postdocs and masters students. We were joined by 11 scientists from institutions around Europe, who were willing to give up some of their valuable research time to lecture students in their area of expertise (maybe the food and wine is enough to persuade them…).

Working…

Each morning we had lectures on a range of topics, including continuum mechanics, ice dynamics, numerical modelling, geophysical methods, polar oceanography and climatology; with plenty of coffee breaks in between to keep us alert. The lectures were excellent – I felt that in each topic, the basics were explained in a good amount of detail, enabling us to get a grasp on more complex ideas. I’m sure I will be referring to the lecture material in years to come. In the afternoon (after the three course lunch!) we went on to problem exercises, which we tended to work on in pairs, and group project work. These group projects were a great way to get stuck into a particular problem in more detail, in an area of glaciology that was not directly related to our own research.

The results of our group projects were presented on the last afternoon. It was great to hear what everyone had been working on: from reconstructing glacial history of the Tibetan Plateau to modelling ice on Mars.

… and playing

It wasn’t all work – each evening there was plenty of time before dinner to go for a run, play ping pong, sleep, or sauna. With the exception of perhaps the penultimate evening, when the time was spent making our group project presentations. And there was plenty of post dinner socialising, which mostly involved playing games in the bar.

Making the most of the good weather on our afternoon off. (Credit: I. Nias)

Making the most of the good weather on our afternoon off. (Credit: I. Nias)

Before I attended Karthaus, there were a number of things previous participants told me about. When I told people I had a place, the most common response was “enjoy the food!”. Despite this, I don’t think I quite appreciated what it was going to be like to eat a three course lunch and a five course dinner every day! It was absolutely delicious though – fresh salad, homemade pasta, and lots of cream and parmesan. And of course bottles of the local wine on every table.

Another thing I was forewarned about was the yearly tango lessons from Hilmar Gudmundsson. I say “warned” because, as someone with zero sense of rhythm, dancing is not a skill I possess. Luckily, I didn’t seem to be alone in finding it a challenge, and seeing as the woman is supposed to “follow” the man, it wasn’t actually my fault when it went wrong (apart from when I got told off for trying to take the lead!). It was great fun and people got very much into it – so much so that we had a couple more dance nights, where we were also taught some German disco fox and Scottish ceilidh!

Excursion – to Hollywood!

Outdoor screening of Everest in the village square. (Credit: I. Nias)

Outdoor screening of Everest in the village square. (Credit: I. Nias)

Something that was definitely not expected was the public premier of the movie “Everest” in the village square, a week before it was released to cinemas. It turns out that much of the movie had been filmed in the surrounding mountains and on the glacier we visited on our excursion. This free public viewing was in honour of the help and hospitably the crew received during the filming. They must have done an excellent job in turning the Alps into the Himalayas.

When we took the cable car up to the Hochjochferner glacier the following Wednesday for our excursion, the cloud was so low that for all we knew there could have been Everest looming over us. Lack of snow cover on the ice meant we were unable to walk to the weather station that Carleen Tijm-Reijmer described in her lecture. However, we were still able to get up close (and underneath) the glacier. We had the chance to spot some of the geomorphological features we had learnt about in Arjen Stroeven’s lectures. When you see a large boulder suspended in the basal ice, it is easy to understand how striae are scratched into the underlying bedrock. After an early lunch in a mountain hut (including wine), we were free to go on a hike in the surrounding mountains. My group walked to a rock glacier in a neighbouring valley – the weather made the place feel more like Wales than the Alps, so we warmed ourselves with a Bombardino in another mountain hut.

Excursion to the Hochjochferner Glacier (left). Getting a closer look of the glacier (right). (Credit : I. Nias)

Excursion to the Hochjochferner Glacier (left). Getting a closer look of the glacier (right). (Credit : I. Nias)

On the last evening, after the five course meal, we were treated to live music by members of the group. We then moved to the village hall for a final night of Karthaus dancing. It was a great evening to end a fantastic 10 days, and the next morning saw all of us (tired and slightly worse for wear) making our way home.

 Frank, Carlo and Hans performing on the last night. (Credit: I. Nias)

Frank, Carlo and Hans performing on the last night. (Credit: I. Nias)

I highly recommend that anyone who is beginning their career in glaciology applies next year. A huge thank you to Hans Oerlemanns and all the lecturers for creating such a fantastic summer school. Also thanks must go to Paul and Stefanie Grüner and all their staff at the Hotel Goldene Rose for making us feel so welcome!

Edited by Sophie Berger and Nanna Karlsson


Isabel Nias is a PhD student at the Bristol Glaciology Centre, University of Bristol, supervised by Tony Payne. She is using an ice-flow model to investigate grounding-line dynamics of ice streams in the Amundsen Sea Embayment, and how this may impact future sea level. Her work is part of the UK Natural Environment Research Council iSTAR programme, which aims to improve understanding of the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Camping on the Svalbard coast

Camping on the Svalbard coast

In early April 2015, a small team of 2 Belgian and 2 French researchers went to Svalbard. The goal? Testing new methods to measure sea-ice thickness and ice algal biomass, but also measuring greenhouse gases in the sea ice in relation with the ‘STeP’ (Storfjorden Polynya multidisciplinary study) campaign. With funding from the French Polar Institute (IPEV) and IPSL and logistical arrangements by the Laboratoire d’Océanographie et du Climat (LOCEAN, Paris), we had the opportunity to conduct a short field campaign, long enough to perform instrumental tests and ice coring.

The expedition was arranged with Stefano Poli – a tourist guide in Svalbard. People and equipment were driven on snow-mobiles to Agardhbukta, 100 km South East of Longyearbyen. The conditions for this expedition were quite rudimentary; a tent, a burner and sleeping bags. There are no human settlements in this remote location, so Stefano chose a camping spot, as safe as possible with respect to polar bears, right in front of the fjord, our working place…

Quite exciting, isn’t it? Let’s take a look at what we got up to:

Outside the tent (credit: A. Lourenço).

Setting up the Camp

How do you set up a camp in the Arctic? First, you look for a hidden place, ideal for bear watching (in our case we chose a place with a small hill on our back and open on a wide and flat area). Then the hard work starts:

  1. Build the body and the membrane of the tent.
  2. Dig a hole in the snow right under the entrance to allow carbonic gases to escape.
  3. Set up the oil burner circuit: the oil tank positioned outside the tent is sent to the burner through a pipe covered by snow to avoid spilling accidents, and another pipe made from superposition of aluminum cylindrical cans links the burner to the air above the tent. A hole in the membrane of the tent is designed for that purpose.
  4. Circle the tent with a bear alarm. This was totally handmade and consisted of a gun firecrackers guided by a thread, not really sufficient to stop a polar bear!

The daily life

Eating, sleeping, working, everything was adapted to Arctic conditions. The meals – morning, lunch and dinner – were just dry food in hermetic bags that you fill in with boiling water. Better choose the orange bags, chili con carne is the best. To sleep, reindeer skins were placed directly on the ground (i.e. snow) as mattresses, and sleeping bags were in natural bird feathers. The ideal position is when you find the perfect distance between your feet and the burner.

Inside the tent (credit: M. Kotovitch)

Inside the tent (credit: M. Kotovitch)

As the bear alarm might not be totally reliable, our guide offered us (well, without the possibility to decline or give up) a memorable nocturnal experiment, a series of 2-h bear-watching shifts, with a survival kit consisting of a flare gun, 2 tea thermos and 1 teddy polar bear for superstition.

In the Field

The objectives of this short campaign were (i) to sample early spring sea ice, snow and seawater in the Storfjorden region; (ii) to calibrate non-destructive methods for ice thickness and biomass retrievals in sea ice; and (iii) to measure greenhouse gases in sea ice in relation with the ‘STeP’ campaign. This cruise is scheduled for next summer in Storfjorden, led by IPSL-Paris and involves paleo-oceanographers, physical and chemical oceanographers as well as biogeochemists from several countries.

Why is it so important to develop a non-destructive method while working on sea ice? Because the general and only way known currently to sample sea ice in its entire thickness consists of coring, which destructs the site and can alter sea ice biogeochemical conditions.

With these goals in mind, the initial plan was to operate 2 or 3 stations per day on coastal landfast ice in Storfjorden. Agardhbukta was chosen for its situation (not too far from Longyearbyen) and as one of the locations in Storfjorden where we had good expectations to find practicable sea ice in this season, which was required to carry out our work. Our guide Stefano mentioned he saw a satellite image with new sea ice on March 23 in that location. And indeed, the sampled ice was probably not older than 2-3 weeks (Figure 4). Regarding the sampling planning, our expectations where a little bit overestimated. The weather conditions were so snowy and windy that we hardly had the time to sample one full station a day… This is how Polar Regions surprise us.

 

Bear watching (credit: A. Lourenço)

Edited by Sophie Berger and Nanna Karlsson


Marie Kotovitch is a PhD student at the Chemical Oceanography Unit, University of Liège, supervised by Bruno Delille. She is working with sea ice and gas transport (mostly greenhouse gases like CO2 and N2O). She has a collaboration with the Laboratory of Glaciology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and was involved in this campaign in Svalbard to analyze the biological aspect of this study.

Cruising for mud: Sediments from the ocean floor as a climate indicator

Cruising for mud: Sediments from the ocean floor as a climate indicator

Going on a cruise for a month sounds tempting for most people and that is exactly how I spent one month of my summer. Instead of sunshine and 25 degrees, the temperature was closer to the freezing point on the thermometer and normal summer weather was replaced by milder weather conditions. The destination of the cruise was the western Nordic Sea and the east Greenland Margin. The ice2ice cruise was not a regular cruise, but a scientific cruise, starting in Reykjavik then heading towards the east coast of Greenland and ending in Tromsø, Northern Norway. Without the option to go ashore and far away from civilization, I spent four weeks aboard the Norwegian RV G.O. Sars. When I came home from the middle of the ocean, I realized that I had been part of a unique project.

The ice2ice cruise logo, where the red dots indicate the more than 30 sites of coring marine sediments under the ice2ice cruise. Photo credit: Amandine Tisserand

The ice2ice cruise logo, where the red dots indicate the more than 30 sites of coring marine sediments under the ice2ice cruise. Photo credit: Amandine Tisserand

Why are climate scientists going on a cruise?

The purpose of the cruise was to collect marine sediment cores in the western Nordic Seas and along the east Greenland Margin. The retrieved sediments can be used to document abrupt changes in sea ice cover and ocean circulation along the East Greenland continental margin, during glacial times and for the more recent past. For this purpose three different sediment coring systems were used. The multicore, which samples sediments, including the sediment/water interface at the sea floor, the gravity core that is used to get information about the deeper marine sediments (up to 5 meter), and the calypso core that could retrieve up to 20 m long sediment cores, containing muddy sediments from the ocean floor to the ship’s deck.

One of the main questions of the ice2ice project is why there are abrupt climate changes. The sediment cores should be ideal for correlation to the RECAP (http://recap.nbi.ku.dk/) ice core from Renland Ice Cap in Eastern Greenland, drilled earlier this year. Together it is a unique material, which hopefully can bring information of the sea ice cover and its extent back in time.

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Sediments: a split calypso core showing a clear pattern of a tephra layer from a volcanic eruption (left), and the multicore on the way up with four successful sediment cores (right). Photo credit: Iben Koldtoft and Ida Synnøve Olsen.

When everything is new – also the type of cruise

This was my first cruise ever, and before I boarded the ship in Reykjavik in mid-July, my knowledge of marine sediments and the ocean was very limited. Most of the people on board the ship were geologists who knew a lot about sediments from the ocean and had been on cruises before. Now a month later, my knowledge about sediments and the life aboard a research ship has become much larger. I think I had the steepest possible learning curve about sediments, because there were no stupid questions to ask, and everyone was very nice about answering questions, even if it was outside their area. Usually I work with ice cores and modelling of glacier ice and for me everything was new. This meant that I could contribute with knowledge about the RECAP ice core instead. Now I can take part in a conversation about sediments together with other geologist.

Normally when going on a cruise, there are only a few scientists on board on the ship. This means that there is only time to core the sediments and cut them into sections, while all the scientific work takes places later, when the sediments are in the lab. On this cruise, as something new, we were several scientists, so when the sediments were on deck, we immediately did a splendid job of handling the cores, describing and analysing the material. Thus, the detailed lab analyses can start right away after the material gets back to Bergen.

Shipboard analyses indicated that the material we have brought back to the laboratories in Bergen covers a time span from the present and probably a few hundred thousand years back in time. Not all the data have been analysed yet but we are looking forward to start and we are eager to see the results.

 Midnight sun over the Greenland Sea. Photo credit: Dag Inge Blindheim.

Midnight sun over the Greenland Sea. Photo credit: Dag Inge Blindheim.

The science

During the one month long cruise, we had collected numerous samples of shells from the ocean floor from 32 stations west of Iceland. We did CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) measurements, to get information about how the temperature, salinity, density and oxygen content of the water vary in the ocean, and we collected water samples at different depths to analyse oxygen and carbon isotopes. We also collected sediments from 31 stations and every core has passed the DNA sampling, color and MS measurements stations. The cores were then cut into sections, split down through the middle, logged and described so that we could  get an initial feel for the quality and utility of the samples we retrieved, before they are brought to shore for much more detailed analysis.

Ashley, Margit and Ida cut a gravity core into sections (left), while Alby brings a multicore from the deck down to the lab (right). Photo credit: Dag Inge Blindheim and Kerstin Perner.

Ashley, Margit and Ida cut a gravity core into sections (left), while Alby brings a multicore from the deck down to the lab (right). Photo credit: Dag Inge Blindheim and Kerstin Perner.

Working 24-hour shifts on the ship meant that we achieved a lot and we brought home more than 200 m of muddy sediment cores from the sea floor from the western Nordic Seas and the east Greenland Margin and more than 190 water samples.

Although it was 12 hours of hard work most of the days, it was a pleasure to be part of the cruise. It has certainly not been my last cruise, if it is up to me, and I will look forward to a new cruise if I am lucky enough to get the chance. Weather was nice most of the time, but of course, we had some days of rough seas.  The professionalism of the crew of G.O. Sars created an excellent atmosphere for work and time off, it was more like being on a real 4 star cruise if we ignore the time we worked.

Henrik is taking DNA samples of a gravity core (left) and water samples from the CTD (middle). Photo credit: Iben Koldtoft. I am happy after having packed one of the last sediment sections, which is now ready to be sent to Bergen and further analyzed (right). Photo credit: Kerstin Perner

Henrik is taking DNA samples of a gravity core (left) and water samples from the CTD (middle). Photo credit: Iben Koldtoft. I am happy after having packed one of the last sediment sections, which is now ready to be sent to Bergen and further analyzed (right). Photo credit: Kerstin Perner

On the ice2ice cruise the scientists were Eystein, Carin, Jørund, Dag Inge, Bjørg, Christian, Margit, and Amandine from Uni Research (Uni Research Climate, Norway), Stig, Sarah, Evangeline, Henrik, Ashley, and Ida from UiB (University of Bergen, Norway), Flor from GEUS (Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, Denmark), Mads from CIC (Centre for Ice and Climate, Denmark), Kerstin from IOW (Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemünde, Germany), Albertine from Bris. (University of Bristol, UK), and myself Iben from DMI & CIC (Danish Meteorological Institute & Centre for Ice and Climate, Denmark). We were 19 participants, 8 men and 11 women, representing 8 different nationalities, and supported by a ship crew of 15. We were in good spirits all the time and a successful cruise!

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The scientific crew of the ice2ice cruise. Photo credit: Iben Koldtoft

The cruise would not be possible without support from the European Research Council Synergy project ice2ice (Danish-Norwegian), Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research (Norway) and Institute of Marine Research (Norway), who provided research vessel and crew onboard.

You can read more about the ice2ice project on its homepage https://ice2ice.b.uib.no/

Iben Koldtoft is PhD student within the ice2ice project at Danish Meteorological Institute and Centre for Ice and Climate, University of Copenhagen, Denmark and supervised by Jens H. Christensen and Christine S. Hvidberg. She is interested in modelling the dynamics of the Greenland Ice Sheet and the smaller glacier, Renland Ice Cap, in the Scoresbysund Fjord, Eastern Greenland. Currently she is coupling the ice sheet model PISM to the ocean by implementation of calving to the model. Surface mass balance simulations of the Greenland Ice Sheet will later be used to assess the quality of the interaction between the ice sheet model and a climate model in comparison to observations.

Ice Nomads: The iSTAR traverse of Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica

A typical iSTAR field camp with the living ‘caboose’ on the left (credit: Damon Davies).

A typical iSTAR field camp with the living ‘caboose’ on the left (credit: Damon Davies).

It’s the 2nd December 2013 and I find myself in one of those rare occasions in life where I feel I need to pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming. Why? Somehow I’m in control of a British Antarctic Survey De Havilland Twin Otter aircraft flying over the white featureless expanse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. I’m part of a team of 12 heading to Pine Island Glacier, a remote ice stream 75°S and around 1500 km from Rothera Research Station on the Antarctic Peninsula.

The journey so far has taken four flights from London to Punta Arenas on the Southern tip of Chile and across the Drake Passage to Earth’s southernmost continent. Our pilot, John is having some lunch and keeping a close eye on my erratic attempts to hold a constant bearing and altitude as I ‘co-pilot’ the final leg of our journey. On the horizon I spot a thin strip of bright white snow that marks the groomed ski-way of our landing site.

John takes back the controls and eases the throttle down for a perfectly smooth landing. I step down from the plane with a familiar squeak and crunch of cold dry snow underfoot in an unfamiliar environment like nothing I’ve experienced before. I squint as my eyes adjust to the bright white desert of flat ice sharply contrasted by a crystal clear blue sky spanning the distant horizon in every direction. This will be my home for the next few months as I embark on my first Antarctic field season as part of the first iSTAR science traverse of Pine Island Glacier.

The iSTAR research programme

iSTAR (ice sheet stability and research programme) is a £7.4 million research programme funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) involving 11 UK universities and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). Its aim is to improve understanding of ice-ocean interaction and ice dynamic response of Amundsen Sea sector of the West Antarctic.

Over the past few decades this region has been undergoing the greatest rates of ice loss on the planet causing concern over its potential future contribution to rising global sea-level. Pine Island Glacier (PIG) drains around 10% of the West Antarctic Ice sheet (WAIS) which contains enough ice if melted to raise global sea-level by approximately 3.3 metres.

In order to make accurate predictions about how this region will respond to environmental change requires good physical observations and measurements. Through scientific ocean cruises and an over-ice traverse spanning two field seasons combined with satellite remote sensing and numerical modelling, iSTAR aims to provide the data necessary to improve the accuracy of projections for the contribution of the WAIS to future sea level.

The iSTAR traverse of Pine Island Glacier

Traditionally the UK has conducted glaciological investigations in remote regions of Antarctica using small field units typically consisting of one scientist and a field assistant. For larger drilling projects equipment has to be flown by aircraft at great expense and fuel consumption.

For iSTAR, a new approach was undertaken using two ‘tractor trains’. These consist of two Pisten Bully snow tractors towing two long poly sleds with fuel bladders and three metal cargo sledges including a living ‘caboose’; a converted shipping container with a cooking and living space (essentially a caravan fit for polar travel!). All this equipment was delivered by the RRS Ernest Shackleton to the Abbot Ice Shelf in February 2012 and driven to Pine Island Glacier ready for the first traverse the following season.

iSTAR tractor train (credit: Alex Taylor).

iSTAR tractor train (credit: Alex Taylor).

This infrastructure provided a means to meet the ambitious science aims of the iSTAR traverse making it possible to collect more ground measurements over a wider area than ever previously possible and with greater fuel efficiency.

The traverse follows a 900 km route visiting the trunks and tributaries of PIG to conduct a range of measurements on the ice.

The route of the iSTAR traverse of Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica (credit: www.istar.ac.uk).

The route of the iSTAR traverse of Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica (credit: www.istar.ac.uk).

So what about the science?

iSTAR science

The iSTAR programme is split into four science projects, with iSTAR A and B making measurements from scientific ships and iSTAR C and D collecting data during the overland traverse of Pine Island Glacier. It is the overland traverse that we were involved in.

iSTAR C: Dynamic Ice project:

This project aims to understand the internal dynamic processes responsible for transmitting the effect of thinning of PIG’s floating ice shelf caused by melting of warm ocean currents upstream into the trunk and tributaries of the ice stream. Of particular interest is how the underlying geology of the ice influences its flow.

Over the course of two field seasons the traverse collected over 2000 km of radar data and over 40 km of seismic surveys were completed. The team used skidoos to tow radar equipment across the ice making the most of the 24 hours of daylight of the Antarctic Summer to provide detailed images of the ice thickness and bed topography. The geology of the subsurface was also investigated by analysing the seismic energy returned from small explosive charges buried in the surface of the ice.

Operating the ice penetrating radar (left) and firing explosives for seismic surveys (right) (credit: Damon Davies).

Operating the ice penetrating radar (left) and firing explosives for seismic surveys (right) (credit: Damon Davies).

iSTAR D: Ice Loss project

Satellite measurements over the past two decades have revealed rapid thinning (up to 1.5 metres per year) and acceleration of PIG’s ice flow. The iSTAR D project aims to take measurements to extend the record of past snow accumulation and ice density to improve estimates of ice loss that cannot be determined from satellite measurements.

To determine past accumulation and understand surface processes such as snow density changes and compaction, we drilled 10 shallow (50 metre) ice cores. These ice cores had to be kept frozen and shipped back to the UK where their chemistry is being analysed to enable us to quantify how much snow has fallen onto the ice sheet in the past. Over 20 snow density profiles were recorded using a device called a ‘Neutron Probe’ which uses a radioactive source to measure neutron scattering from within the snowpack to calculate ice density. This might sound dangerous but to my disappointment after spending many hours operating this equipment I have yet to develop super powers!

Rob, Becky and Emma inside the ice core drilling tent (left), Damon and Andy working at a Neutron Probe site (right) (credit: Alex Taylor).

Rob, Becky and Emma inside the ice core drilling tent (left), Damon and Andy working at a Neutron Probe site (right) (credit: Alex Taylor).

Surface radars operating at the same frequency as satellites that orbit the earth measuring ice surface changes were also deployed. These ground radar measurements enable us to improve the accuracy of satellite derived estimations of ice volume loss from West Antarctica.

Anna operating the surface radar (credit: Jan De Rydt).

Anna operating the surface radar (credit: Jan De Rydt).

Now you know all about iSTAR science but what’s it like to live and work in one of the most remote regions of the coldest, highest, driest and windiest continent on Earth?

Life in the field

Life on the iSTAR traverse is perhaps similar to a travelling circus, only instead of jugglers and gymnasts we have scientists and mechanics and rather than a ‘Big Top’ we had the ice core drilling tent. At each of the 22 sites on the traverse route the circus would set up camp for a few days to a week. Tents would be pitched, sledges un-hitched and science equipment unloaded, the whole process of setting up camp taking just an hour or two.

Setting up the drilling tent (left). iSTAR accommodation (right) (credit: Alex Taylor).

Setting up the drilling tent (left). iSTAR accommodation (right) (credit: Alex Taylor).

This region of Antarctica has a reputation for wild weather. Temperatures can drop below -30°C and winds can reach hurricane speeds reducing visibility to within a few metres. However, on calm days it can be so silent you can hear your own heartbeat and the strength of the summer sun provides welcome warmth. Good weather means working long hours as you never know how long it might last. When the weather takes a turn for the worse, all you can do is shelter from the elements and wait patiently for the storm to pass, though patience can be tested when the storm lasts for a week!

iSTAR team members battling a storm (left) (credit: Alex Taylor). Tent damage after a big storm (right) (credit: Damon Davies).

iSTAR team members battling a storm (left) (credit: Alex Taylor). Tent damage after a big storm (right) (credit: Damon Davies).

The living ‘caboose’ offers a warm shelter away from the elements. This is also where the team gathers at meal times with everyone taking turns to cook for the rest of the group. The iSTAR menu normally consists of a porridge breakfast, soup and bread for lunch, some form of carbohydrate with meat slop for dinner followed by tinned fruit/pudding with powdered custard for dessert. The labels of some meal packages such as ‘chicken own juice’ and ‘sausages in lard’ aren’t particularly enticing but generally the food is good by Antarctic field standards.

Dinner-time in the caboose (left) (credit: Alex Taylor). James finishing off a cottage pie with a blow torch (right) (credit: Damon Davies).

Dinner-time in the caboose (left) (credit: Alex Taylor). James finishing off a cottage pie with a blow torch (right) (credit: Damon Davies).

The iSTAR traverse was an incredible experience that allowed me to learn a range of data acquisition techniques as well as learning how to work in the often hostile Antarctic weather. I was one of 9 PhD students and post-doctoral researchers involved in the traverse seasons who were able to work alongside highly experienced scientists in the field. Our success is a testament to the hard work and good spirit of everyone involved.

Left photo, 2013/14 traverse participants. Left to right, Anna Hogg (Leeds), Rob Bingham (Edinburgh), Andy Smith (BAS), Damon Davies (Edinburgh), Johnny Yates (back row, BAS), Tim Gee (middle, BAS), Jan De Rydt (front, BAS), Steph Cornford (Bristol), James Wake (BAS), Peter Lambert (Reading), Thomas Flament (front, Leeds), David Vaughan (BAS) (credit: David Vaughan). Right photo, 2014/15 traverse participants. Left to Right, James Wake (BAS), Mark Baird (BAS), Tim Gee (BAS), Emma Smith (BAS), Isabelle Nias (Bristol), Robert Mulvaney (BAS), Andy Smith (BAS), Alex Brisbourne (back row, BAS), Rebecca Tuckwell (middle, BAS), Alex Taylor (front, BAS), Sebastian Rosier (BAS), Damon Davies (Edinburgh) (credit: Alex Taylor).

Left photo, 2013/14 traverse participants. Left to right, Anna Hogg (Leeds), Rob Bingham (Edinburgh), Andy Smith (BAS), Damon Davies (Edinburgh), Johnny Yates (back row, BAS), Tim Gee (middle, BAS), Jan De Rydt (front, BAS), Steph Cornford (Bristol), James Wake (BAS), Peter Lambert (Reading), Thomas Flament (front, Leeds), David Vaughan (BAS) (credit: David Vaughan). Right photo, 2014/15 traverse participants. Left to Right, James Wake (BAS), Mark Baird (BAS), Tim Gee (BAS), Emma Smith (BAS), Isabelle Nias (Bristol), Robert Mulvaney (BAS), Andy Smith (BAS), Alex Brisbourne (back row, BAS), Rebecca Tuckwell (middle, BAS), Alex Taylor (front, BAS), Sebastian Rosier (BAS), Damon Davies (Edinburgh) (credit: Alex Taylor).

For more information about the iSTAR research programme visit www.istar.ac.uk and the ‘stories from the field’ blog posts to read more tales from traverse fieldwork.

Acknowledgments: A huge thanks to James Wake, Tim Gee, Johnny Yates, Mark Baird and Alex Taylor for their tireless support in the field. The traverse could not have succeeded without support from the staff at Rothera Research Station. Also thanks to Emma Smith for helpful comments on this blog.

Edited by Sophie Berger


Damon Davies is a PhD researcher at the University of Edinburgh, School of Geosciences Glaciology and Cryosphere research group. His research uses geophysics to investigate the dynamics of ice stream beds and their control on ice stream flow.

My first journey to Antarctica – Brice Van Liefferinge

My first journey to Antarctica – Brice Van Liefferinge
(Credit B. Van Liefferinge)

(Credit B. Van Liefferinge)

19 November 2014, the Iliuchine 76 gently lands on the runway of the Russian Antarctic station, Novolazarevskaya, in Dronning Maud Land. For the first time, I’m in Antarctica! It is 4 o’clock in the morning and we need to hurriedly offload 2 tons of material intended for our field mission near the Belgian Princess Elisabeth Station. I’m deeply impressed by the landscape although it is dotted with containers, people and machines. I am impressed by the fuzz. I am impressed by the novelty. I am impressed by the icescape. It is cold, but I don’t feel it.

(Credit B. Van Liefferinge)

(Credit B. Van Liefferinge)

I take part in an expedition lasting five weeks and led by the Laboratoire de Glaciologie of the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) in the framework of the Icecon project.The project aims at constraining past and current mass changes of the Antarctic ice sheet in the coastal area of Dronning Maud Land (East Antarctica) to better understand past and present ice volumes and the extension of the Antarctic ice sheet across the continental shelf during the last glacial period. This year we are a team of 5 to do the job: GPS measurements, ice-core drilling, high- and low-frequency radar measurements (GSSI and ApRES), televiewer measurements … The ApRES radar is a new phase-sensitive radar developed by British Antarctic Survey (BAS), capable of detecting internal structures in the ice and changes in the position of internal layering over time.

After a couple of hours at the Russian base, it’s time to fly to the Princess Elisabeth Station (the Belgium base, PEA). The arrival in a Bassler (a former DC3 re-equipped with turbo-props) with stunning views of the Sor Rondane Mountains and the Princess Elisabeth station on the Utsteinen rim is simply magnificent. Alain Hubert, the base manager, gives us the first security rules and shows us the different parts of the base.

(Credit B. Van Liefferinge)

(Credit B. Van Liefferinge)

 

After following the various field training and especially an exercise that aims at pulling yourself out of crevasses, it’s time to inspect, to set up, and to test our equipment. While one part of the team sets up the drill, Frank Pattyn and I test the GPS and radar equipment, mainly the ApRES that is a new “toy” for us. The first results are promising, we can clearly identify the bed topography and internal layers. The two GPS systems sponsored by the “10km of the ULB”, a run organised by the students of our Faculty, are also tested next to the L1L2 GPS systems for precise positioning. As our departure is imminent, I’m excited (even though my level of Coca-cola are getting low – I ‘m an avid consumer of this “evil drink” and Frank was afraid that I wouldn’t survive without sufficient sugar intake).

(Credit B. Van Liefferinge)

(Credit B. Van Liefferinge)

On 27 November, we leave PEA in the evening for one night and one day across the Roi Baudouin Ice Shelf to Derwael ice rise. We are 6 scientists, 2 field guides and 1 technician. After 25 hours of travel, we set up the camp on the top of the divide. We start immediately with the radar measurements to locate potential drill sites. However, we get caught in a storm the following day and as Frank says “not a nice one”.

(Credit F. Pattyn and B. Van Liefferinge)

(Credit F. Pattyn and B. Van Liefferinge)

 

The snow drift is just amazing and the atmospheric pressure drops frighteningly (“can this still go lower?”). The whiteboard installed in the living container is not wide enough to draw the graph of pressure change, nor is it high enough to accommodate the lowest values. Furthermore, it’s quite warm, meaning that snow melts in contact with persons and goods. Despite efforts of everyone to clear away the snow, we leave our tents and sleep in the containers for 2 days. Not the most comfortable nights, because we share a two-bunk space with three people, and despite a container it remains very shaky! After three days of amazing experience, we clean up the camp and the science restarts. For one week Frank and I perform radar and GPS measurements in a 10km radius around the camp. These measurements will be repeated in 2015-2016 to provide new data on ice compaction, density and flow. While Frank thoroughly checks the collected data, I have some time to get familiar with the drill, which should prove to be very useful thereafter. The “drill part” led by Jean-Louis Tison and Morgane Philippe aims at drilling two 30 m deep ice cores on Derwael Ice Rise, 2 km on each side of the divide. We want to investigate the spatial variability of snow accumulation induced by this ice rise that sticks approximately 300 m above the surrounding flat ice shelf and therefore perturbs the surface mass balance distribution (Lenaerts et al., 2014).

Blog_EGU (12)_mod

(Credit B. Van Liefferinge)

(Credit F. Pattyn and B. Van Liefferinge)

I use this week to improve my knowledge on other scientific techniques, such as the coffee-can method (will complement the results from the ApRES) or geodetic GPS measurements with Nicolas Bergeot. I also learn the basics of snowmobile mechanics (it’s surprising to see the amount of snow that can be put in an engine!). Unfortunately we get stuck for another 2 days by a new storm event. We use this time to have a look on the first radar profiles and to prepare the second part of the expedition.

 

 

On 9 December, we leave the camp on Derwael ice rise and move towards the Roi Baudouin Ice Shelf, 40km to the west. We set up the camp in a longitudinal depression (like a trench) on the ice shelf that stretches from the grounding line to the coast.

The purpose of this part of the field work is twofold: first of all, determine the mass budget of ice shelves. To do that, we need to map carefully the flow speed of the ice-shelf. Secondly, understand the formation of the trench in evaluating if under the ice-shelf, the ice is melting or accreting (formation of marine ice) and analyze the surface melt history by investigating near-surface melt layers.

The first three days are devoted to make radar measurements (ApRES) in the center and on the sides of the trench. The thickness of ice and the reflection at the interface with the ocean is different from the one on the ice rise; we take some time to develop a robust method and determine the best settings of the radar. Together with Frank Pattyn and Jan Lenaerts (InBev Baillet Latour fellowship, http://benemelt.blogspot.be/) I perform a 120km transect with a high-frequency radar towed by a snowmobile to map the near-surface internal structure along the ice shelf and link the drill site with the grounding zone. Driving at 8 km per hour for 8 hours a day, it’s an opportunity for me to think about how lucky I am to be here. Alone in the vastness of the Roi Baudouin ice-shelf, I feel very small. Back in camp, we find out that the drill got stuck at a depth of 54m in the borehole and preparations to free the drill are on their way. During this time I carry out a number of high-frequency radar measurements with Alain Hubert (the base manager) to fine-tune the equipment to potentially detect crevasses near the surface. To our surprise, we stumble upon a crevasse more than 500m long, 10m wide and 20m high. Moreover, we can safely descend through the apex of the crevasse to discover its vastness. Truly a magic moment!

(Credit A. Hubert)

(Credit A. Hubert)

 

Thirty-six hours later, and thanks to antifreeze, the drill restarts. This small technical incident pushes us to work the next couple of days through the day and the night (under the sun at 3am is rather special) and we take turns in operating the drill. We reach a depth of 107m, not far from the 155 meters needed to reach the bottom of the ice shelf, but the brittle ice makes progress very difficult. Nevertheless, this is the third core of the (short) season, and as valuable as the previous ones. We can clearly identify every single ice layer over 200 years as well as the surface melting history.

(Credit A. Hubert)

(Credit A. Hubert)

Before leaving back to the base, we finish the installation of the famous Tweetin’IceShelf project (http://tweetiniceshelf.blogspot.com); a project also presented at the EGU General Assembly in 2015. We deploy two GPSes on the flanks of the trench and one in the center. These are simple GPS systems that record their position every hour. They are named GPS CGEO (from Cercle de Géographie et de Géologie de l’ULB) and GPS CdS (from Cercle des Sciences). In the center of the trench, the ApRES is installed which measures once a day the radar signal through the ice. All systems will be effective throughout the Antarctic winter. Data are sent via Twitter to be followed by a larger community. Just follow the @TweetinIceShelf on Twitter. You will not be disappointed.

(Credit F. Pattyn)

(Credit F. Pattyn)

It’s time to go back to the station, which is reached after 20 hours of travel across the ice shelf and the coastal ice sheet. Over 2 days we will be at Cape Town and we have to clean up everything for the next field season.

(Credit N. Bergeot)

(Credit N. Bergeot)

 

I know it is my first time to Antarctica, and as most first-timers, an unforgettable experience of vastness, whiteness, silence, laughter, hard work and fun. When I board the plane I feel delighted and fulfilled and ready to find back green landscapes and city soundscapes in less than ten hours.

The text is based on the blog that was held during the mission: http://icecon2012.blogspot.be/

Edited by Sophie Berger


Brice Van Liefferinge is a PhD student and a teaching assistant at the Laboratoire de Glaciology, Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium. His research focuses on the basal conditions of the ice sheets.

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