Cryospheric Sciences

Cryoscientist life stories

Cryo-Adventures – The Glacial Isostatic Adjustment (GIA) Training School: Personal and Virtual Attendance

Group photo in front of Lantmäteriet. [Photo courtesy of Daniel Vallin (Lantmäteriet)]

The 2019 Glacial Isostatic Adjustment (GIA) Training School was hosted by Lantmäteriet (the Swedish Mapping, Cadastral, and Land Registration Authority) in Gävle, Sweden from 26 – 30 August. GIA is the response of the solid Earth to past and present-day changes of glaciers and ice sheets. Research interests in GIA span the geosciences: from regional planning applications (reclamation/flooding of land due to uplift/subsidence) to constraining past ice sheet history. For this blog, two attendees interviewed lecturers and participants to summarise the five-day training school.

From over 160 applicants, 41 students and early-career researchers from 28 countries (on 6 continents!) were selected to attend the school. Instruction included a mixture of lectures and practical modeling exercises – with ample time for discussions over coffee (or, Fika). An interesting aspect of the training school was that all lectures were live-streamed. Up to 60 people were tuned-in at any given time, and there have been more than 500 individual views of the online content.

“The participants at the 2019 GIA training school were amazing – they came from a wide range of scientific, geographic, and cultural backgrounds, and they threw themselves into the task of extracting as much information as possible from the lecturers and other participants!” said Dr. Pippa Whitehouse, Associate Professor of Geography at Durham University and one of the organizers of the Training School. “In fact, [the students’] input was vital to shaping the content of the entire training school: at the start of the week we challenged them to come up with a series of questions they wanted us to answer, and I think we just about covered everything by the end of the week.”

The lectures and exercises covered a wide range of topics including: History of Land Uplift Research (Martin Ekman), Introduction to GIA (Glenn Milne and Erik Ivins), GIA Modeling (Giorgio Spada), Geodetic GIA Observations (Tonie Van Dam), Sea-level Change (Riccardo Riva), GIA-triggered Earthquakes (Rebekka Steffen), Ice Sheet Modeling (Frank Pattyn), Continental Record of Ice Sheet and Relative Sea Level History (Mike Bentley), Seafloor Record of Ice Sheet History (Julia Wellner), Coupled GIA Modeling and Data-Model Comparison (Pippa Whitehouse), Antarctic Earth Structure and Geologic Record (Terry Wilson), Antarctica Earth Structure and Rheology from Seismology (Doug Wiens), and 3D GIA Modelling (Wouter van der Wal).

Modeling exercises utilized the forth-coming SELEN4 (SealEveL EquatioN solver – preprint available here) by Giorgio Spada and Daniele Melini, and f.ETISh (Fast Elementary Thermomechanical Ice Sheet Model) by Frank Pattyn. A break from the classroom came in the form of a day-long field trip to ancient, uplifted shorelines from the end of the last ice age that now sit 500m above sea level, modern beaches (where the effects of isostatic rebound can be viewed), an enormous esker (a long, winding ridge of sediment transported by meltwater), and an equally impressive 6m-tall glacial erratic (a large, glacially-transported boulder).

Holger Steffen showing students (and lecturers) how GIA has forced the city of Gävle to relocate their harbor, one of the largest in Sweden. [Photo by Peter Matheny (OSU)].

 “This GIA training school really opened my eyes to the diversity of methods that are being employed to approach problems related to GIA,” said Jennifer Taylor, Ph.D. student in the Structure, Tectonics, and Metamorphic Petrology group at Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Minnesota. Jennifer attended the Training School in person. She was impressed by the breadth of earth science disciplines represented at the course, and the variety of datasets and modeling methods employed in the practical component. “As a researcher who typically works on million-year timescales,” she added, “it was fascinating to visit a region where people have been living with the dramatic results of rapid uplift throughout recorded human history.” Sweden, as well as other regions of Scandinavia, continue to experience significant effects of glacial isostatic rebound, with uplift rates on the order of several mm per year.

Dr. Deirdre Ryan, a postdoc at the University of Bremen’s Center for Marine Environmental Sciences (MARUM), attended the Training School virtually. While Dr. Ryan enjoyed the lectures and was glad for the opportunity to attend virtually, the inability for virtual attendees to participate in the practical component of the course with instructor supervision meant that they missed out on some of the most useful sessions of the week. “However, I think this is something that can be addressed,” she said. “I’m really excited to see that the virtual conference experience can be as fulfilling as in-person attendance without the requirement of travel and can really serve to reduce science’s carbon footprint.”

Financial support for the Training School was contributed by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the Antarctic (ANET) component of the Polar Earth Observing Network (POLENET) project, the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) through the Solid Earth Response and influence on Cryosphere Evolution (SERCE) program, the International Association of Cryospheric Sciences (IACS), the European Geosciences Union (EGU), and DTU Space.

The conference organizers were Stephanie Konfal (Ohio State University), Terry Wilson (Ohio State University), Rebekka Steffen (Lantmäteriet), Martin Lidberg (Lantmäteriet), Pippa Whitehouse (Durham University), and Holger Steffen (Lantmäteriet).

This was the fourth such training school, which has been alternatively hosted by Lantmäteriet and the Ohio State University in 2009, 2011, and 2015. All lectures from the School were recorded and are freely available on the POLENET’s website.

Further reading

Edited by Jenny Turton


Libby Ives is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She studies the sedimentary records left behind by glaciers both in the Pleistocene and in the rock record, with a special focus on the Late Paleozoic Ice Age. You can find her on twitter @glaciogeoLives




Peter Matheny is a PhD student in Geodetic Sciences at the Ohio State University, and is currently working with the POLENET project. When not taking classes, he works on improving the speed at which we can process large networks of GPS stations to realise global reference frames.



Cryo-adventures – Life and science at a central Greenland ice core drilling camp

How do you get there? Where will you sleep? What work will you do there?These are just a few of the many questions I got from family and friends when I told them that I would join the EastGRIP ice core project this summer. As a paleo climate and ice sheet modeller, I could only repeat the abstract information given to me, very conscious that I actually had no idea how it would be to live and work on top of the Greenland ice sheet. In the numerical models I use for my work, the ice sheet shape and properties are represented by numbers and mathematical equations. Quite different from the vast expanse of empty, flat whiteness around the EastGRIP camp. Inspired by my kids (two boys who love to play with LEGO and watch Ninjago) I took a LEGO ninja and a LEGO scientist with me to the field. I wrote a little scenario involving a villain, a ninja who accidently ends up in Greenland and a scientist. Their adventure is my attempt to describe the travel, life and work in the ice core drilling camp. It became a 94-picture story in comic book format. The full story can be read here, but let me show you some of the highlights.

The travel

How do you get there? [Credit: Petra Langebroek – Map data Credit: Google]

For example, I explained that we travelled from Kangerlussuaq on the west coast of Greenland to EastGRIP by military plane. These special planes can land on normal runways, but also have skies in order to land on EastGRIP’s runway made of compacted snow.

The camp

Where do you sleep? [Credit: Petra Langebroek]

In the camp, most of us sleep in bunk beds in heated tents. Apart from scientists and drillers, there is also a medical doctor, a cook and a mechanic in camp. These people are essential for keeping the camp running, safe and in a good mood. The population in camp varies between about 20 to 40 people, depending on the workload and time within the field season. Being at EastGRIP is a bit like camping on the snow. Even the toilets are located in tents.

Where to go when nature calls? [Credit: Petra Langebroek]

The work

Where do we drill and process the ice core? [Credit: Petra Langebroek]

The primary activity at EastGRIP is of course related to drilling an ice core. In a large trench below the ice, several “rooms” have their own specific purpose, the largest ones are for the drilling and processing of the drilled ice. The latter happens in the “science trench”, where each bench has its own specific tools to either cut the ice or measure properties of the ice. In a conveyer belt-like system, scientists process the drilled ice at a rapid tempo.

The science

Why do we drill ice cores? [Credit: Petra Langebroek]

Of course, at some point the LEGO ninja wonders why we actually drill these ice cores. The LEGO scientist explains the basics of preserving climate information in layers of snow. Layers are compacted and become the ice we drill, with the climate information archived inside.

Why are we drilling a deep ice core at EastGRIP? [Credit: Petra Langebroek – Map data Credit: Google]

The EastGRIP ice core is being drilled at the start of the North East Greenland Ice Stream (NEGIS). This is the largest ice stream in Greenland, and it is still unclear how it exactly originated and why it is there. The surface velocity at EastGRIP is around 51m/yr, which is extremely fast for ice far inland. The main objective of the EastGRIP project is to study the dynamics of this ice stream, both internally in the ice and at its base.

In the end of the LEGO adventure, the ninja knows everything about EastGRIP and upon return to Bergen, captures the villain!

– The End

Further reading

Edited by Violaine Coulon

Dr Petra Langebroek is a senior researcher at the Norwegian Research Centre NORCE and the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, in Bergen, Norway. She works with ice sheet and climate models, aiming to understand past changes in ice sheets and climate. Currently she is coordinating a strategic project at the Bjerknes Centre ( focussing on the interactions of Greenland Blocking, ice dynamics and basal hydrology, using geological information from the Scandinavian Ice Sheet as an analogue for future Greenland changes. She is also coordinating the freshly started Horizon 2020 project TiPACCs ( on tipping points in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Surviving in cold environments: from microbes under glaciers to queer scientists in the current social context

Surviving in cold environments: from microbes under glaciers to queer scientists in the current social context

On the 5th of July we will celebrate the International Day of LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer, and people that do not identify themselves as cis and/or straight) People in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM). Many people will ask: “Why is this day important?” Being a queer scientist in particular, and a queer person in general, can sometimes reminds us of how living organisms feel in extreme environments. In this blog post, I will use the analogy of organisms thriving in harsh environments, to highlight the struggles of LGBTQ+ people in the science community.

I am a geomicrobiologist investigating how microorganisms interact with their surroundings in order to survive and what impact this activity has on the environment in which the microbes live. My PhD focused on the subglacial environment (underneath glaciers), and although it is a well-known fact that microorganisms can survive in extreme conditions, it was not until the late 1990s that the first subglacial bacteria were described (Priscu et al., 1999; Sharp et al., 1999). This discovery led to a shift in the way we regarded the subglacial environment: from a cold, dark, nutrient desert to a microbial oasis, an ironic “hot spot” for life within immense ice masses (Tung et al., 2006), showing a very high abundance of microorganisms (Toubes-Rodrigo et al., 2016).


How can microorganisms survive in a carbon poor and dark environment?

In illuminated environments, plants and photosynthetic bacteria are able to get energy from the sunlight, but this resource is not available under meters and meters of ice. At the bottom of glaciers, where the ice is in contact with the underlying ground, debris can entrain into the ice (Hubbard et al., 2009; Knight, 1997). Microorganisms are able to take advantage of the sediment and produce energy from the minerals to create organic matter in a process called chemolithotrophy. In addition, due to physical interactions between sediment and ice, there is always a thin layer of liquid water (even at sub-freezing temperatures) around the sediment grains, and it is well known that water is one of the most limiting factors for life. The bacteria which get their energy from the minerals and water under the glacier are called chemolithotrophs.

This process continues as glaciers flow across the ground. As glaciers flow, fresh minerals are picked up into the ice, becoming a supply for chemolithotrophs, which in turn enrich the sediment with carbon over time (Telling et al., 2015). The extra carbon then allows for the blooming of microorganisms capable of feeding on it (heterotrophs). Therefore, we have an active ecosystem in such a harsh environment.


How does this link to the LGBTQ+ Community?

This is a very good analogy for the conditions the LGBTQ+ community finds itself in: we usually find that our surroundings are very cold towards us. Just ask a homosexual person what reaction we receive when we are doing something as normal as holding with our partners or ask a trans person about the reaction they receive for their mere existence. Nevertheless, we queer people are capable of not only thriving but also making an impact and changing the mentality around us. As the visibility and representation of queer people continues to grow, people are becoming more educated about queer lives, queer history and the issues we still face. Much like the microbes that enrich the sediment, we enrich society through our diversity. Therefore, events such as the International Day of LGBTQ+ People in STEM are critical to maintaining and furthering the progress we have already made.

We can imagine glaciers as giant conveyor belts, able to transport sediment from the bedrock underneath the ice and release it downstream. The process of transport will not only affect the location of the sediment, but also the chemical makeup of it, due to the activity of microorganisms over years and years. The sediment released from glacier is richer in some of the nutrients, generating fertile soil. Yet again, this a wonderful metaphor: many people have questioned why LGBTQ+ Pride (in STEM) is needed, as LGBTQ+ rights have advanced so much in recent years. However, it is arguably more important now than ever before as, whilst we have made huge progress, we are still the target of hatred. For example, we still find attacks to queer people in cities such as London and Detroit only last week (see articles below) and in many countries around the world, queer existence is either passively ignored or actively threatened.

A number of museums associated with the University of Cambridge Museums are hosting LGBTQ+ Tours, to highlight research by the LGBTQ+ community and to educate the public. Just recently, the Scott Polar Museum ran the ‘Bridging Binaries Tour’ which included information about same-sex behaviour among penguins, and non-normative gender identities in the ancient world [Credit: University of Cambridge Museums].

How can LGBTQ+ initiatives help?

Initiatives such as Pride, LGBTQ+ people in STEM day or the Bridging Binaries Tours increase the visibility of the community: we prepare the soil for queer people to thrive. It helps internally-struggling individuals accept themselves, and highlights that it is ok to be different and that we exist. A discouraging fact for me when I was growing up was the lack of LGBTQ+ role models in science. A lack of role models has a terrible impact on LGBTQ+ people in STEM. Just to give a couple examples taken from PRIDE in STEM: more than 40% of LGBTQ+ people in STEM remain in the closet, having to disguise a fundamental part of themselves. Furthermore, gay, lesbian, and bisexual students are less likely to follow an academic career. When I first started my PhD, I was asked “edit it down” and be less overt about my sexuality, even by friends. Initiatives such as the International Day of LGBTQ+ People in STEM can make our surroundings more welcoming: it gives us a voice, a place. It gives us a space, in which we can express ourselves, and allows us to inspire the new generations of scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians. As with microorganisms, the whole of society needs to stick together, interact and positively feedback all its members. Just as microorganisms thrive and diversify the community under glaciers, LGBTQ+ people should be able to thrive and add balance to the scientific community. This is why we need to nurture, nourish, and celebrate diversity with days such as International Day of LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer) People in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), especially in such politically divided and uncertain times. At the last EGU general assembly, a pride@EGU event was held which provided a meeting point for the LGBTQ+ community and allies (non-LGBTQ+ community members who support them). For more information about LGBTQ+ STEM day, please visit

At the last EGU general assembly, the pride@EGU event was well attended. Another event is being planned for the next general assembly in 2020 [Artwork/photo credit: Dr Stephanie Zihms].

Further reading

Edited by Jenny Turton

Dr Mario Toubes-Rodrigo is a post-doctoral research associate at the Open University, UK. Previously, he completed his PhD at the Manchester Metropolitan University. His research focuses on investigating microorganisms which inhabit extreme environments from the lowest layers of glaciers to sulphate-rich lakes, comparing their production of gases to those in the Martian Atmosphere. Mario is an active twitter user and goes by the handle: @micro_mario.