Cryospheric Sciences


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 to pitch your idea.

From Hot to Cold – Volcanology Meets the Cryosphere

From Hot to Cold – Volcanology Meets the Cryosphere

Hello again, I’m Kathi Unglert, and you’re about to read my third and final post as a student reporter at EGU 2016. Today I am writing about my experience in the cryosphere sessions from my volcanology perspective.

In preparation for the conference I kept thinking about what sort of research I would see in the cryosphere sessions. I had never really attended any specific conferences or meetings on the topic, so most of what I knew was from work that friends of mine do, which is mainly ice stream modelling. I am wondering whether similar tools (for example, analytical or numerical methods) can be used to model ice streams and lava flows?


A Tale of Ice and Fire

Thinking about the differences between ice streams/glaciers and lava, another potential overlap between cryospheric sciences and volcanology jumps out; In places like Iceland, volcanoes sometimes sit underneath large ice sheets. Similarly, tall volcanoes – particularly those in high mountain ranges – are often covered in snow and have small glaciers in their craters or on their summits. It is important to understand the interactions between the warm volcano, the hot lava, and the cold ice. For example, to forecast catastrophic floods that often occur when a subglacial volcanic eruption melts parts of the overlying ice and snow (so-called “jökulhlaups”). There is even a commission on “glaciovolcanism”, and it turns out that astrogeologists are quite interested in the topic to learn more about potential volcano-ice interactions on Mars. I had no idea how interdisciplinary this field of research was. It would definitely be useful for volcanologists to poke their heads into cryosphere meetings once in a while, and vice versa. Throw a little bit of planetary science in the mix, and you have a textbook example of interdisciplinary research!

Lava meets snow: Lava flowing into a canyon at the snow covered Eyjafjallajökull during an eruption in 2010 - one of the many examples where volcanology and cryospheric sciences meet. Photo credit: Martin Hensch (Imaggeo)

Lava meets snow: Lava flowing into a canyon at the snow covered Eyjafjallajökull during an eruption in 2010 – one of the many examples where volcanology and cryospheric sciences meet. Photo credit: Martin Hensch (Imaggeo)

The methods that we use in the different fields can also be quite similar: Resistivity measurements can be used to determine the extent of permafrost in the subsurface in Artic regions, but also to detect high temperature bodies beneath volcanic edifices that may be storing magma. I also saw a PICO presentation at the conference last week that uses cosmic rays to image the bed of a glacier in the Swiss Alps, a technique that volcanologists have tested to detect magma reservoirs and conduits on volcanoes!

In terms of the bigger picture, volcanological and cryospheric research overlap a lot in climatology. Erupting volcanoes emit gases and increase aerosols in the atmosphere, which can affect the climate locally, regionally, or even globally. The traces of such volcanic eruptions can sometimes be found in ice cores, where volcanic ash gets trapped and preserved for centuries or more. For a long time, it has been known that at least one big volcanic eruption in the 6th century – the traces of which have been found in ice cores – caused strong changes in climate for a few years, and some studies suggest that these effects may have contributed to political and societal instability in the Maya civilization in Central America at the same time. There was even a press conference about it at the EGU 2016 meeting. Other questions that we could ask might be “Does wide spread glaciation change the frequency or nature of volcanic eruptions?”, “How do volcanic eruptions affect the climate and ice stream or glacier dynamics?”, or “What can we learn about glacier dynamics by analyzing the locations of volcanic deposits in ice?”

So you know how they say “go big or go home”? Let’s put our minds together and get interdisciplinary! At the very least it’s going to be fun to think in slightly different terms for a while, and who knows where it may lead!


The EGU Student Reporter Experience

All in all, it’s been really great taking part in the Student Reporter Programme, and peeking into a totally different field. Seeing overlap between the different disciplines was a good experience, and one that was made possible by being a student reporter. Sometimes we get so stuck in our individual little niche that there is no room for anything else, despite the fact that other disciplines might have come across the same problems, struggled with the same methods, and maybe found a solution. I was lucky that the session schedule worked out ok – most days when things were a bit slow volcanology-wise I was able to go a cryosphere session. However, that way it was a very busy week, there was rarely ever any downtime, or time away from the conference. During the few quiet moments I spent time in the press office, doing some background research for my posts, editing work from the other reporters, or going to a press conference. I have to say, the press office was a new, but very cool experience. There were always interesting people around, both scientists presenting their latest results and journalists trying to find a new story. I’ve been into science writing for a while, so meeting some of the people whose work I read was a really cool bonus to the whole programme! If you enjoy writing, don’t mind a faster pace, and are curious about science at EGU outside your field I would highly recommend the Student Reporter Programme. If there is no blog in your discipline (like it was the case for me) that might even be a good thing, and you’ll get to learn some new and unexpected things!

(Edited by Emma Smith and Sophie Berger)


profile_highres_EarthMatters_lightKathi 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.


Careers at the European Space Agency – How and Why?

Careers at the European Space Agency – How and Why?

As the pace of modern life speeds up and job competition becomes even more fierce, it is good to have a focused plan of where you would like to be in the future. The European Space Agency (ESA) offers traineeships and research positions to young scientists on a regular basis. They may be a springboard into your chosen career path, but how do you go about bagging one of these valuable opportunities? Below, two Research Fellows with ESA share their experiences of successfully arriving at their dream jobs. First, however, you might want to consider how you get the all-necessary experience in remote sensing in the first place. Fortunately, we are about to tell you just that: Apply for the ESA summer schools and training courses! Especially if you have a keen interest in all things icy, you should check out the upcoming ESA Advanced Training on Remote Sensing of the Cryosphere! More about this at the end.

Two (and a half) ways to join the European Space Agency as an early career Polar scientist

For most of scientists setting out on a career means completing a masters, getting a PhD, finding a post-doc. The attitude is that the jigsaw will just fall into place; perusing the job advertisements and hoping that somewhere out there, there will be that perfect project which you are not only extremely interested in, but moreover for which you tick all the right skills boxes. This simple approach may perhaps come to fruition but you stand a much greater chance if you actually draw up a plan early on in your career. The roadmap to success is knowing your goals and understanding your own limits.

One scientist with a plan is Anna Hogg. During her Geography degree at the University of Edinburgh, Anna discovered satellite data for monitoring the cryosphere. She realised she not only liked the subject but was rather good at solving computational challenges. Deciding to explore the technical side of remote sensing, Anna went on to do a masters in Space Studies at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France. After an internship with the German Space Agency (DLR) she started her PhD at the University of Leeds which she combined with an ESA Young Graduate Trainee position during her first year at graduate school.

Route 1: The ESA Young Graduate Traineeship (YGT)

If you have just finished your masters degree or even are a PhD student who has the flexibility to take up a one-year research secondment (N.B. subject to your University’s rules), you can apply to join ESA’s Young Graduate Traineeship programme. Like all jobs, Young Graduate Traineeship are advertised, but they pop up regularly and are a great way to get an insight into the mechanisms of the space agency and, in Anna’s case, its Earth Observation programme.

Anna Maria Trofaier, also an alumna of the University of Edinburgh, sidestepped into her career. After completing her physics degree, she returned to her hometown of Vienna, where she first came across Arctic issues. She had always been interested in Space, and had worked with satellites at an ESA summer school – albeit for planetary science. At this stage however, having enrolled  in a masters degree programme in Environmental Technology, she discovered satellite remote sensing for environmental monitoring. She contacted the Institute of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing of the Vienna University of Technology, asking to join and work for them on an ESA project; a step that would shape her future for good. When she returned to the UK to do her PhD in Polar Studies at the University of Cambridge she made sure to keep the links to her Viennese colleagues and the project active. Working for ESA had always been her ambition; it was the realisation that this would have to happen through the Earth Observation programme that gave her the focus to acquire the appropriate skills for a job with ESA. And sure enough, when she was called for interview with the ESA Climate Office she felt she had arrived.

I really enjoyed my time working at ESA’s Earth Observation centre, ESRIN, just outside Rome. The Young Graduate Traineeship position I applied for had a large research component so I was able to design my own science project using data from the Earth Explorer satellite missions, like CryoSat-2. This was a great opportunity as it tied in really well with the PhD position I was awarded at the University of Leeds. There has been a lot of hard work (and fun!) along the way, but I am rewarded every day by working on an incredibly interesting topic with a network of great colleagues, (Anna Hogg).

Route 2: The ESA Internal Research Fellowship

The ESA Research Fellowship is a post-doctoral research programme that enables young scientists and engineers to undertake cutting-edge research outside of a university environment. Research Fellows usually propose their research topic within the framework of the advertised position. They are independent researchers, but they also contribute to their team’s activities. This way they get a glimpse of science management within ESA.

‘It’s been a fantastic experience! I’ve been given almost free hand to shape my own research, but it’s not just been me and my computer. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being part of a team that coordinates research projects across Europe (the Climate Office’s main brief is the ESA Climate Change Initiative programme). I was also encouraged to get involved in the recent ESA GlobPermafrost project – working with some familiar faces but this time I’m on the ESA side of the project. We’ve been joking about how the tables have turned. It’s such a great feeling when colleagues become friends,’ (Anna Maria Trofaier).

Route 2.5: The ESA Living Planet Fellowship

There is another way to do research with ESA which is as a Living Planet Fellow (LPF). LPF’s are a traditional post-doctoral research associate (PDRA) at their own institutions, with the slight difference that part of their funding will come from ESA. Like ESA internal research fellows, LPF’s also have to propose an interesting 2 year research project, ideally with a link to other ESA science programmes. Having contributed to the ESA Climate Change Initiative (CCI) programme’s Ice Sheets project during her PhD, Anna Hogg is now a LPF at the University of Leeds. Her involvement in ESA CCI boosted her possibilities and enabled her to be successful in obtaining one of the much sought after Living Planet Fellowships.

So how will these stories help you find that perfect job (with ESA)?

  1. Keep checking the job openings. Certainly, the element of luck is always present – jobs need to be advertised in order for you to apply.
  1. Meanwhile, be outgoing and pro-active. To arrive at that ideal job you need experience. Apply for an internship or volunteer to work on a project where you will gain those all-important skills and make new contacts. And don’t underestimate the importance of networking – knowing people in your field and finding at least one person you can call a mentor will give you the support you need to successfully develop your scientific skills and securing that ideal position.
  1. Never give up. There might be times when you are uncertain whether you are fit to do the job – we all experience that nagging self-doubt. Just don’t give in to it!
  1. But do be self-aware. Of course you should always aim high and present yourself in the best light, but there is no point claiming you are good at something when in fact you have only peripherally come in contact with the subject. Understanding your limits will allow you to highlight all the things you are really good at, and if you realise you are lacking the necessary experience for the job, make sure you find a way to gain some.

Figuring out what it is you want to achieve in your professional life is half the battle. Tailoring your skills to be more in line with those goals will put you in the best position once that research or work opportunity comes along.

So what are you waiting for? Just go for it, apply and get those additional skills that will put you ahead of the game!


ESA Advanced Training on Remote Sensing of the Cryosphere

Thanks to our fantastic teaching team made up of experts from all over the world, we have put together an exciting course program covering thematic areas such as sea-ice, mountain glaciers, ice sheets and snow; and Earth Observation techniques such as altimetry, gravimetry and interferometry. The ESA course, which is co-sponsored by the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and UK Catapult centre, will take place at the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM) at the University of Leeds in September 2016. It already looks set to be a really interesting week, so if you have any questions about applying for a place on the course get in touch. Both Anna’s are on the organising committee and are happy to help.

Time series of Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica. Credit: ESA.

Time series of Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica composed of 29 image pairs from Sentinel-1. The top image shows the surface velocity in colours, and the bottom image is the velocity along a line starting at the grounding line and going inland. Get the data here . Credit: ESA.

(Edited by Nanna Karlsson, Sophie Berger and Emma Smith)

Image of the Week – Storing water in Antarctica to delay sea-level rise

Image of the Week – Storing water in Antarctica to delay sea-level rise


Sea level rise

Sea-level rise is one of the main impacts of the current global warming and its rate has dramatically increased in the last decades (the current rate is about 3 mm per year). Even if greenhouse gas emissions were stopped today, sea level would continue to rise due to the slow Earth climate system response (IPCC, 2013, chap. 13). It is therefore a considerable threat for populations living close to the coastlines with the big cities most at risk.

Storing water in Antarctica


Modelling water storage

In order to face sea-level rise, many adaptations measures have been planned and already taken (e.g. building barriers and dikes, broadening dunes). In a recent study, Frieler et al. (2016) investigated the possible pumping of sea water from the Southern Ocean and its storage as ice in Antarctica in order to delay sea-level rise. Once on top of the ice sheet, this water would freeze to solid ice. The authors used the Parallel Ice Sheet Model (PISM) to estimate the ice sheet response’s to different ice addition scenarios starting from an equilibrium state. In the experiments, ice was continuously added for 100 years, then this addition was stopped and the model was run for 1000 years to quantify the subsequent ice loss through discharge to the ocean.

What would happen?

One of the key results is that the distance from the coast at which the water is added to the ice sheet strongly controls the ice loss 1000 years after the forcing ends. When the ice is added 200 km from the coastline, 10 to 15% of the added ice is already lost after 100 years and most of it is lost 1000 years after the end of the forcing, contributing to sea-level rise. When the distance is 800 km from the coastline, the ice-sheet contribution to sea-level rise is strongly delayed and a broad ice gain persists after 1000 years (see figure).

Practical considerations

Even if pumping water onto Antarctica could delay future sea-level rise, this solution would need to overcome technical difficulties. For example, the energy needed to pump water onto the surface of the Antarctic ice sheet would be about 7% of the current global primary energy supply! In order not to enhance further the current global warming, this energy would need to be generated from renewable sources, e.g. from wind farms installed on the Antarctic continent.

Food for thoughts…

This original study finally raises the question: do we value the uninhabited Antarctica more than we value our populated coastlines? It does not provide an answer but gives some insights. The impact of such a solution on the environment and the global economy would need to be further investigated. Even if this adaptation measure would delay sea-level rise, future generations would pay the price when the ice addition is stopped. Therefore, carbon emission mitigation measures are currently the safest way of not deteriorating our environment.


Frieler K., Mengel M., Levermann A. (2016). Delaying future sea-level rise by storing water in Antarctica, Earth System Dynamics, 7, 203-210, doi: 10.5194/esd-7-203-2016.

(Edited by Sophie Berger and Emma Smith)

David Docquier is a post-doctoral researcher at the Earth and Life Institute of Université catholique de Louvain (UCL) in Belgium. He works on the development of processed-based sea-ice metrics in order to improve the evaluation of global climate models (GCMs). His study is embedded within the EU Horizon 2020 PRIMAVERA project, which aims at developing a new generation of high-resolution GCMs to better represent the climate.

When Cryospheric Research Transforms Lives

When Cryospheric Research Transforms Lives

My name is Kathi Unglert, and I’m reporting from the EGU 2016 General Assembly as part of the EGU student reporter programme. Below is my second contribution to the Cryosphere Blog – this time about how cryosphere research can have a real impact on people’s lives.

Antoni Lewkowicz – he’s famous, according to a comment I overheard in Tuesday’s PICO session on applied geophysics in cryosphere research. I’m a volcanologist, so I guess I wouldn’t know. But what I do know is that he’s a passionate scientist. His PICO presentation got my curiosity, but what really grabbed my attention is a small statement he made during the subsequent discussion of his PICO poster. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

One thing I’ve learned over the last few days is that cryospheric research can have a big impact on people’s lives. Antoni’s work is part of a project on the effects of a changing environment in Northern Canada, and on adaptation to climate change. The Yukon is Canada’s northwestern most territory, right on the border to Alaska. It’s about twice the size of the UK, but with just under 40,000 people its population is lower than 0.1% of the UK’s population. You can imagine the vast wilderness in the Yukon. Yet, for the people living in this part of the world, climate change is happening right now. Permafrost is disappearing (see the blog Image of The Week from last Friday), and the thawed ground is the foundation of now wonky houses. Among others, the Kluane First Nation and their territory are threatened by the disappearance of frozen ground. They have teamed up with various universities and research institutes for Antoni’s climate change adaption and hazard mapping project to identify regions where future construction is less likely to be affected by thawing permafrost. The project reveals that on previously burnt ground, where the permafrost has already thawed, the shallow ground is less likely to move and settle any further, so it’s safer for buildings.

An old building in Dawson, Yukon, warped by thawing permafrost. Photo credit: Antoni Lewkowicz

An old building in Dawson, Yukon, warped by thawing permafrost. Photo credit: Antoni Lewkowicz

Ludovic Ravanel also studies permafrost. The researcher and mountain guide has set up a network of observers – fellow guides, hut keepers, cable car operators and more – to monitor rockfalls at Aiguille du Midi, a peak at over 3,800 m altitude in the Mont Blanc Massif in France. Even a small chunk of rock that tumbles down the steep slopes of the Massif can be fatal. Ludovic’s records show that during heat waves such as the one that happened in the summer of 2015, there are many more rockfalls than during colder years. During that year, at least one person lost their life because of crumbling parts of the mountain. On the poster in the permafrost open session on Wednesday, Ludovic and colleagues summarize the results from years of monitoring, and conclude that the rockfalls can clearly be attributed to thawing permafrost. This is bad news. The good news is that the observer network works well to alert the community of increased rockfall activity. Climbing routes can be closed, and protective measures can be introduced to keep falling rocks from getting to areas where people are, or from hitting important infrastructure.

Steep peak in the Mont Blanc Massif. Thawing permafrost can cause fatal rockfalls. Photo credit: Christian Massari (Imaggeo)

Steep peak in the Mont Blanc Massif. Thawing permafrost can cause fatal rockfalls. Photo credit: Christian Massari (Imaggeo)

The results from both studies are extremely important and have the potential to reduce costs to the community as well as transform and even save people’s lives. During Antoni’s presentation, the comment that led to this article was that the Kluane First Nation decided not to follow Antoni’s and his colleagues’ recommendation for where to build new homes. As Antoni says, people are people after all, and who wouldn’t like to build their house next to some nice trees, instead of burnt ground with some small shrubs. In contrast, Ludovic is happy with the actions taken at Aiguille du Midi following his research. However, in a comment concluding our conversation he admits that things might look different if he wasn’t local to Chamonix and if he wasn’t a mountain guide. In other words, his work has such a positive impact partly because he is very much part of the community and enjoys a level of trust that one might not be able to gain as an “outsider”.

Read more about the Yukon Hazard Mapping project in one of their reports here, or about the effect of thawing permafrost on the Mont Blanc Massif in this paper, published in The Cryosphere.

(Edited by Emma Smith)


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.

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:


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

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: The Bipolar Seesaw

Image of the Week: The Bipolar Seesaw

The colourful graphs above show how the climate changed in the period from 65 to 25 thousand years ago when Earth was experiencing an ice age. A wealth of information on the dynamics of our climate is embedded in the curves, especially how the northern and southern hemisphere interact, and how fast climate can change.

The figure represents thousands and thousands of hours of work by scientists, technicians and logistics personnel.  It shows the latest results from analyses of an ice core drilled in the middle of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet: The WAIS ice core.


What are we looking at?

In the top part of the figure, the blue curve shows oxygen-isotope values from the North Greenland Ice Core Project. The curve represents temperature in the northern hemisphere where the peaks are high temperatures.

→  First take home message: During the last ice age, the temperatures in Greenland changed very abruptly from cold to warm temperatures. These changes are marked with yellow lines in the figure.

The green curve shows the amount of methane gas in the Antarctic WAIS core. The shape of the methane curve is very similar to the blue temperature (oxygen-isotope) curve from Greenland. The rapid changes in temperatures in Greenland are reflected in the amount of methane in Antarctica.

→ Second take home message: Methane is a “well-mixed” atmospheric gas. This means that if you measure the amount of methane in the air anywhere on Earth, you will get a good indication of the amount of methane on a global level.

The third and fourth curves show the oxygen-isotope values from WAIS (yellow) and the temperatures (purple). In contrast to the Greenland temperatures, the temperatures in Antarctica do not show very fast changes. Instead, we see a slow cycle of rising and falling temperatures.

→ Third take home message: When Greenland experiences a fast warming, Antarctica slowly begins to cool. When Greenland slowly cools, Antarctica begins to warm.


But what does it all mean?

It means that changes in temperature in the northern hemisphere affect the southern hemisphere but with a mechanism that is slightly delayed. This mechanism is of course the ocean. In climate science, this up-and-down pattern is called “the bipolar seesaw” (read more here).


Why is it important?

It is important because it tells us something about how the climate system reacts to abrupt changes. A change in the northern hemisphere is transmitted to the southern hemisphere but not necessarily immediately.


Want to know more?

Read the whole paper here.

Edited by Emma Smith and Sophie Berger

What to do at EGU  — a guide for early-career scientists

What to do at EGU  — a guide for early-career scientists

Are you going to the EGU General Assembly in Vienna next week? Check out these events for early career scientists.

To remind you when and where all these nice events and activities take place, you can directly view and import them in your electronic calendar (Isn’t it wonderful?! :-))

Social event for Early Career Cryosphere Scientists!

If you cannot make it to anything else; make it to our social event, which is organised together with APECS. After the short course on Wednesday evening (see below) we will head to the Wieden Bräu for some food, drinks and networking. We will be there at approximately 20.30. You do not have to sign up in advance, but if you know that you are coming it would be very helpful if you could let us know by filling in this doodle.

Here you can even find the event on facebook.

Meeting about the Cryosphere Blog

If you like this blog, are curious about it and would like to contribute to it  — directly and/or indirectly — please come and meet us on Tuesday the 19th of April at 12.15.

Short courses

The idea behind the short courses is to give an insight into a certain area and/or the applications/uses/pitfalls in and around the topic. There are a lot of very interesting courses at this year’s meeting and below we have highlighted a few of them. Why not drop by and meet the experts who have kindly agreed to participate and share their knowledge?

Cryosphere short courses

Using Ice core chronologies: Dos and don’ts  

Assoc. Prof. Anders M. Svensson from the Centre for Ice and Climate, University of Copenhagen will tell you all you need to know about ice cores. The course is an introduction to ice core science with an emphasis on how ice cores are dated, what the main uncertainties are, and what to be aware of when comparing with other records. The course is especially of interest to researchers who do not work directly in the ice-core community, but who find themselves using ice core data for comparison with other climate data and time-series, and who would like an introduction to what ice core records can and cannot provide.
Time and date: Wednesday the 20th of April, 19:00–20:00
Place: Room 0.31

Remark: This short course takes place just before the social event and it is said that learning heaps of stuff about ice cores is the best way to start your evening 🙂


The Cryosphere — Publishing Your Work: Meet The Editor! [Read More]

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) .


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.


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.

Image of Week: Blue Ice in East Antarctica

Image of Week: Blue Ice in East Antarctica

The blue ice areas of Antarctica are one of the most fascinating parts of the ice sheet. In these regions, snowfall is so low that the ice is laid bare by the wind and consequently sublimates. This exposes beautiful, blue ice surfaces, like an ocean frozen in time. This picture was taken at a site named “Windy Corner” by the Kottas Mountains, in the northernmost part of the Heimefrontfjella, Dronning Maud Land, East Antarctica.

Map of Antarctica showing the ice sheet (grey), ice shelves (dark grey) and known blue ice areas in blue. Credit: Quantarctica, Norwegian Polar Institute.

Map of Antarctica showing the ice sheet (grey), ice shelves (dark grey) and known blue ice areas in blue. Credit: Quantarctica Database, Norwegian Polar Institute.

You can also read about an expedition to another blue ice area on our blog.

Edited by Sophie Berger and Emma Smith

Image of the Week: Ice Sheets in the Climate

Image of the Week: Ice Sheets in the Climate

Ice sheets play a central role in the climate system. They store significant amounts of fresh water and are the conveyor belts for transporting snow that accumulates on land back into the oceans. The figure above shows a few of the ice-climate interactions. In the figure below (click on the figure for full resolution) we see the complete picture of the processes taking place between ice sheets, solid earth and the climate system. These interactions have an internal variability but also affect the coupled ice sheet–climate response to external forcings on time scales of months to millions of years. The inlay figure represents a typical height profile of atmospheric temperature and moisture in the troposphere.

If the current warming of the climate continues, the ice sheets will respond at a yet unknown rate, with unknown consequences for the rest of the climate system. Decisions reached at COP21 in Paris this week  may impact the future of our ice sheets and halt the current trend.


The interaction of ice sheets with the climate system. Credit: Figure 1 in Box 5.2, IPCC AR5.