Communicating scientific findings toward non-experts is a vital part of cryosphere science. However, when it comes to climate change and its impact, the gap between scientific knowledge and human action has never been so evident (see for instance, the publication of the latest IPCC special report). Today, our image of the week features an interview with Cryo Connect, a new initiative for more efficient flow of information between cryosphere scientists and information seekers.
Why have you decided to come up with an initiative like Cryo Connect?
Currently, information seekers such as journalists, policy makers, teachers and stakeholders often resort to internet search engines to find experts for answering specific questions about the cryosphere. Or they return to the same expert they have interacted with in the past. Either way, it is unlikely that they end up receiving information from the expert that knows most about the topic, or even in the preferred language. Some organizations have their own science outreach portals, but a truly global and inclusive network of cryosphere experts willing to provide insights to those seeking information has been lacking. For this reason, we established Cryo Connect.
Number of Cryo Connect experts for each cryospheric component. [Credit: Cryo connect]
Number of Cryo Connect experts for each cryosphere region. [Credit: Cryo connect]
How has Cryo Connect been doing so far?
Although still in our first year, by October 2018 Cryo Connect has already grown to a community of 98 experts based in 22 countries across the planet. Together, they can provide information on all components of all cryospheric regions in the world – in 19 different languages! Researchers make up about two-fifths of the expert database, while PhD students, senior researchers and professors each constitute a ⅕ part. Lots of knowledge to go around.
Career stage of Cryo Connect experts. [Credit: Cryo connect]
What’s the take-home message for scientists?
That all cryosphere scientists around the globe are invited to sign up as a Cryo Connect expert to increase their visibility to the media and other information seekers. The platform works best, and attracts more information seekers with an even larger expert population from all corners of the planet. And don’t forget to tweet about your latest peer-reviewed publication using the @CryoConnect Twitter handle for increased media exposure!
Edited by Sophie Berger
Cryo-connect is an initiative run by Dirk van As, Faezeh Nick, William Colgan and Inka Koch
Brad Herried, Antarctic cartographer at South Pole. [Credit: Brad Herried].
Mapping Earth’s most remote continent presents a number of unique challenges. Antarctic cartographers and scientists are using some of the most advanced mapping technologies available to get a clearer picture of the continent. We asked Brad Herried, a Cartographer and Web Developer at the Polar Geospatial Center at the University of Minnesota, a few questions about what it’s like to do this unique job both on and off the ice.
Before we go too much further… what is the Polar Geospatial Center, and what does it do for polar science and scientists?
The Polar Geospatial Center (PGC), founded in 2007 by Director Paul Morin, is a research group of about 20 staff and students at the University of Minnesota with a simple mission: solve geospatial problems at the poles (Antarctica and the Arctic). Because we are funded (primarily) through the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA Cryospheric Sciences, that is the community we support – other U.S.-funded polar researchers. We provide custom maps, high-resolution commercial satellite imagery, and Geographic Information System (GIS) support for researchers who would like to use the data for their research but may not have the expertise to do so.
Our primary service is providing high-resolution satellite imagery (i.e. from the DigitalGlobe, Inc. constellation) to U.S.-funded polar researchers – at no additional cost to their grants – through licensing agreements with the U.S. Government. It has proven beneficial to researchers to have a service so that we do the hard parts of data management, remote sensing, and automation of satellite imagery processing so that they don’t have to. So, a glaciologist or geomorphologist or wildlife ecologist studying at the poles may come to us and say: I would like to use satellite imagery to study phenomenon x or y. Some groups use it just for logistics (these are some of the least mapped places on Earth after all) to get to their site. Some groups’ entire research is done using remote sensing.
What kinds of data and resources do you use?
The PGC’s polar archive of high-resolution commercial imagery is absolutely astounding (like, in the thousands of terabytes). The imagery, although licensed to us by U.S. Government contracts, is collected by the DigitalGlobe, Inc. constellation of satellites (e.g. WorldView-2), much like the imagery where you can see your house/car in Google Earth. The benefit is that we can provide it at no cost to our users (researchers). That resource, along with the expertise of the staff at PGC, can provide solutions to users, whether it’s making a simple map of a remote research site or providing a time-series of satellite imagery for a researcher studying change detection (like, say for a glacier front in Greenland).
This also presents a challenge. How do we manage and effectively deliver that much data? We have relied on skilled staff, ingenuity, cheap storage, high-performance computing, and automation to become successful.
As the saying goes, automate or die.
What’s your role at the PGC? How did you find your way into a job like this?
I started at the PGC as a graduate student in 2008. I knew nothing about Antarctica or the Arctic, but my background and studies in GIS & cartography offered a wide range of jobs. After I graduated, I became a full-time employee as the lead cartographer of the (at the time, very small) group. Currently, I do a lot more GIS web application development and geospatial data management. We have recognized the need for more automated, “self-service” systems for our users to get the data they need in a timely manner, and less of asking a PGC employee for a custom product. As the saying goes, automate or die. But, of course, I still spend a fair bit of my times creating maps to keep my cartographic juices going.
Antarctica and the South Polar Regions. Map from the American explorer Richard Byrd’s second expedition in 1933. [Credit: Byrd Antarctic Expeditions]
What kind of work do PGC employees do in Antarctica?
The PGC staffs an office at the United States’ McMurdo Station annually from October to February, with 3-5 staff rotating throughout the field season. It is really an extension of our responsibilities, with a couple interesting twists, both good and bad. First, a majority of our users (NSF-funded researchers) come through McMurdo Station in preparation for their fieldwork. It’s a beneficial and unique experience to meet with them one-on-one and solve problems, ironically, faster than email exchanges back in the States. Second – and this is true of all of Antarctica – the internet bandwidth is very limited. So, we have to a) prepare more regarding what data/imagery we have on site and b) do more with less. That always proves to be a fun challenge because it is impossible to access our entire archive of imagery from down there.
How could I forget collecting Google Street View in Antarctica.
There have been several years, however, when we do get to go out into the field! In past years, we have conducted various field campaigns in the nearby McMurdo Dry Valleys to collect survey ground control to make our satellite imagery more accurate. And, how could I forget collecting Google Street View (with some custom builds of the typical car-camera system for snowmobiles, heavy-duty trucks, and backpacks). The Google Street View provides a window into the world of Antarctica – history, facilities, science, and of course its beautiful landscapes – to a wide audience who only dream of visiting Antarctica.
Brad on a snowmobile collecting Google Street View imagery [Credit: Brad Herried]
What are some of the interesting projects PGC has worked on? What’s exciting at PGC right now?
The PGC does a lot to contribute to polar mapping. There’s not exactly a ton of geospatial data or maps for the polar regions, especially Antarctica. What data or maps there are, it is not often of very high quality. For example, there are regions of Antarctica (especially in inland East Antarctica) which have not been properly mapped or surveyed since the 1960s. Those maps offer little help if you’re trying to land an aircraft in the area. So, PGC has done a lot to improve that geospatial data including creating more accurate coastlines, improving geographic coordinates of named features (sometimes the location can be off by 10s of kilometers!), organizing historic aerial photography, and digitizing map collections. These are important to have, but it all changes when you can collect data 100 times more accurate with satellites…
There’s not exactly a ton of geospatial data or maps for the polar regions, especially Antarctica.
Where it gets really interesting is how we can apply our archive of satellite imagery to help researchers solve problems or come up with cutting-edge solutions with the data. One example is the ArcticDEM project. In a private-public collaboration, PGC is using high performance computing (HPC) to develop a pan-Arctic Digital Elevation Model (DEM) at a resolution 10 times better than what exists now. This project requires hundreds of thousands of stereoscopic satellite imagery pairs to be processed using photogrammetry techniques to build a three-dimensional model of the surface for the entire Arctic. There are countless more applications for the imagery and we’ll continue to push the limits of the technology to produce innovative products to help measure the Earth and solve really important research questions.
ArcticDEM hillshade in East Greenland. DEM(s) created by the Polar Geospatial Center from DigitalGlobe, Inc. imagery. [Credit: Brad Herried/ Polar Geospatial Center].
What resources can cryosphere researchers and other polar scientists without US funding get from PGC to enhance their research?
Our website provides a wealth of non-licensed data, freely available to download. That includes our polar map catalog (with over 2,000 historic maps of the polar regions), aerial photography, and elevation data. The ArcticDEM project I mentioned before is freely available (see https://www.pgc.umn.edu/data/arcticdem/), as are all DEMs created (derived) from the optical imagery. Moreover, we work with the international community on a regular basis to continue mapping efforts across both poles.
What advice do you have for students interested in a career in science or geospatial science?
This might be a little bit of a tangent, but learn to code. I was trained in cartography ten years ago and we hardly touched the command line. Now? You certainly don’t have to be an expert, say, Python programmer, but you’re behind if you don’t know how to automate some of your tasks, data processing, analysis, or other routine workflows. It allows you to focus on the things you’re actually an expert in (and, employers are most certainly looking for these skills).
ArcticDEM hillshade of Columbia Glacier, Alaska. DEM(s) created by the Polar Geospatial Center from DigitalGlobe, Inc. imagery. [Credit: Brad Herried/ Polar Geospatial Center].
Personally, what has been the highlight of your time at PGC so far?
I will never forget the first time I stepped off the plane landing in Antarctica as a graduate student. A surreal, breathtaking (literally), and completely foreign feeling. To be able to experience the most remote places on Earth first-hand naturally leads to a better understanding of them. So, the highlight for me is this: I find myself asking more questions, talking to the preeminent researchers and students about their work, and discovering the purpose of it all. I may be a small piece in the puzzle of understanding our Earth’s poles, but I’m humbled to be a part.
Interview and Editing by George Roth, Additional Editing by Sophie Berger
Tim Ager spent over a year working as a research scientist at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station
What is it like to live at the South Pole for a year? A mechanical engineer by trade, Tim Ager, jumped at the opportunity to work for a year as a research scientist at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. When not traveling on various adventures he lives in Austin, Texas, and recently took the time to answer a few questions about his time at Pole.
What goes on at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station?
Science! And lots of it. Of course there are many people working at Pole just to maintain operations and “keep the lights on,” but it is all in support of science. There are several large-scale science projects. A couple highlights that science grantees taught us during science lectures were:
The South Pole Ice Core (SPICE Core) project looks back in time into the history of earth through ice cores. Every year, snow accumulates on the surface, and year after year these layers compress the snow below them into ice. By drilling down and extracting ice cores, these layers can be studied much like the tree rings. The ice itself is analyzed, but so are the chemicals, dust, and gas bubbles trapped in it. This analysis gives us a peek into the climate history of our planet (see this post for more details). Last summer’s project goal of drilling down 1,500 meters (to ice approximately 40,000 years old) was easily surpassed, with the final ice core brought up from a depth of 1,751.5 meters.
There are three Cosmic Microwave Background telescopes at Pole that look back in time at the oldest light in the universe, which was created shortly after the big bang. The South Pole’s near 0% humidity is the ideal place to do this, since the telescopes look for slight ripples of temperature variations in the light and any water vapor gets in the way.
IceCube, which is a 1 km³ telescope that sites on the South Pole and collect neutrinos, which are tiny electrically neutral particles that can provide insight into the processes that occur within the sun. The telescope collects neutrinos that pass through the Earth, which acts like a big filter, and collects only 3 per day.
Other projects include studying the weather, the magnetosphere, and ozone depletion.
Inside the collector of the 10 m South Pole Telescope [Credit: Tim Ager]
Can you tell us a bit about the projects you were working on and what a typical day was like at the station?
I was a caretaker for several projects. I maintained two GPS projects that tracked the movement of the ice sheet the South Pole Station sits on. This huge chunk of ice moves about 10 meters per year toward the Weddell Sea. For the six months that the sun was down I maintained seven aurora cameras. I was also responsible for SPRESSO (the South Pole Remote Earth Science and Seismological Observatory). SPRESSO is a seismic listening station for the long-term study of seismicity at the South Pole. It is a part of a 120+ station Global Seismographic Network (GSN) and is located five miles from the South Pole Station to reduce station related “cultural” noise. SPRESSO is located within our “quiet sector” and is the quietest seismic listening post on the planet. Some additional duties included maintaining the greenhouse, acting as the station cryotech (making and dispensing liquid nitrogen), and testing fuel.
During the summer season there wasn’t a typical day, and I was kept busy helping many science related activities run efficiently. The typical grantee is only at Pole for one to two weeks, so their time there is very valuable. Before a grantee arrived, I tracked down any cargo they had sent ahead and made sure any crates that weren’t supposed to freeze were not left outside. Once the grantee arrived, I helped out with whatever they needed to ensure their visit was a success – from finding and digging out a drifted-over crate left outside several years earlier, to tracking down tools, to delivering liquid nitrogen. It was never boring and gave me the opportunity to learn about numerous projects.
Amundsen-Scott Station at sunset with markers to help traveling to off-station sites [Credit: Tim Ager]
What did you do when you weren’t working?
There was so much to do that I often had to choose between more than one activity. There is a weight room, a gymnasium, a sauna, a quiet reading room (filled with lots of books), a game room (with a pool table, foosball table, and even more books), a music room (filled with instruments), an art room (filled with cloth, yarn, paints, markers, colored pencils, paper, sewing machines, and who knows what else), a greenhouse, and two media rooms (filled with DVDs of movies and TV shows, video games, VHS tapes, and even Beta Max tapes – yes, Pole has a working Beta Max player). People taught classes on a variety of subjects including music, Yoga, particle physics, astronomy, welding, and foreign languages, to name a few. I learned to play the guitar and became fairly proficient at knitting.
How were the 6 months of darkness and the frigid temperatures?
And the cold wasn’t as uncomfortable as you would think – when you get used to dressing appropriately, -100°F [-75°C] is okay.
The six months of darkness were amazing. It is hard to explain the magnificence of the night sky. Given the extremely low humidity at Pole, we could view the stars with unusual clarity, and the aurora activity was nearly constant. In fact, the auroras frequently obscured the view of the stars, which wasn’t a bad trade-off. And the cold wasn’t as uncomfortable as you would think – when you get used to dressing appropriately, -100°F [-75°C] is okay.
One of many auroras from the South Pole [Credit: Max Peters]
Was there a big shift in the culture of the station between the summer and the winter?
Yes, the summer and winter seasons are completely different. During the summer season (usually early November thru mid-February) there is a flurry of activity. Planes are coming and going, people are coming and going, and the station is full with 150 – 170 people. Because the summer season is relatively short, everyone is focused on getting as much done as possible. But once the last plane leaves everything slows down. The remaining station members put the finishing touches on winterizing the station and settle into a routine that won’t change much, day in and day out, for 8.5 months.
The last plane out doing its customary goodbye flyover – “no one in and no one out” for 8.5 months [Credit: Tim Ager]
Could you share with us any moments that you’ll never forget? What moments stick out as the highlights of your trip?
The day the last plane of the summer season left was unforgettable. No matter how well you think you’ve prepared, it is a moment that is extremely unique. That is when the reality of the situation and the isolation really sinks in. The remaining 48 of us looked around at each other and pretty much all had the same thought: “Well, this is it. This is my family for the next 8.5 months. No one in and no one out.” Of course we didn’t know that we would have a medevac [i.e., a medical evacuation] in the middle of winter – only the third winter medevac ever, and the first time in total darkness. It went smoothly and left 46 of us for the rest of the winter.
Although there were many amazing experiences, the highlight was the night sky. The stars were incredible, and the nearly ever-present auroras were awe inspiring.
I would also like to say that we had an incredible winter-over crew. People were responsible, hard workers, and always willing to lend a hand. Although we were all ready to leave once winter was over, I miss the camaraderie of my South Pole family.
The 2016 winterover crew [Credit: Tim Ager]
To conclude is there anything you would like to say to any future winter-overs?
If you have the time and inclination, definitely consider a winter at Pole. At times it can be physically and/or psychologically challenging, but if you embrace it and live in the moment every day, the time will fly by. We were all amazed at how quickly it was over. I am thankful for the opportunity, and often find myself daydreaming about living back at Pole.
Interview led by David Rounce and edited by Sophie Berger
What do polar bears and emperor penguins have to do with the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame? Pole to Paris has the answer.
Erlend, the Northern runner, in the Norwegian mountains. (credit : Varegg Fleridrett.)
Erlend Moster Knudsen earned his PhD in climate dynamics after four years of research from the University of Bergen, Colorado State University and University of Alaska Fairbanks on Arctic sea ice and its interaction with atmospheric circulation. He took some time to answer a few questions about the project he started with Daniel Price, a fellow polar climate researcher and PhD in Antarctic sea ice . The project is called Pole to Paris.
What is Pole to Paris?
Pole to Paris is a climate awareness campaign and outreach project ahead of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris this year. This December in Paris, the United Nations will meet to negotiate a “climate deal” to pave the way toward a global carbon free future by reducing anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. If we plan to curb our emissions, it is of paramount importance that a consensus is reached under COP21.
The aim of Pole to Paris is to raise the understanding on climate changes in general and the importance of COP21 in particular. The campaign follows two journeys from the poles to Paris – by bike and running shoes.
Map roughly showing the route of the 17,000 km-long Southern Cycle and 3000 km-long Northern Run (credit: Pole To Paris)
Could you tell us a bit more about these biking and running journeys?
The 17,000 km Southern Cycle has gotten off to a good start. Carrying with him a flag from the Antarctic continent, Daniel has already biked across Australia and Indonesia, and is now biking through Malaysia. His next stops will be Thailand, Bangladesh and China, where he will spend weeks documenting stories on sea level rise, glacial melt and pollution.
Later this year, I will start the 3000 km-long Northern Run from Tromsø, running with a flag from the North Pole. After 2000 km through Norway, I will team up with other environmental scientists from Edinburgh to bring the flag to Paris. There we will meet up with the cyclists from the south.
What drives you, a PhD in sea ice, to put on your running shoes and run across Europe?
As we were going toward the end of our PhDs, Daniel (Pole to Paris director) and I (Pole to Paris deputy director) realized more and more that people generally are unaware of the clear results of climate science. There is a large gap in the understanding between academia and the general public. We want to bridge this gap by doing something as crazy as biking and running across half of the globe to raise awareness of climate change, document climate change and bring personal stories of climate change from the corners of the world to COP21.
Running and biking, we interact with people who we meet and who join us along the way, we give school presentations and take part in open climate events. As biking and running climate scientists, we are closer to the group of people science should serve: the general public.
Why are you starting from the Poles?
Pole to Paris friend Seamus Donaghue at the North Pole. On an expedition there, Seamus and his team mate Eric Philips brought the Pole to Paris flag to the northernmost point for his scientific colleagues of Pole to Paris. Erlend will bring this flag on from Tromsø. (credit: Eric Philips)
The starting points of the two routes are chosen deliberately. Being arguably the regions with the fastest signs of climate change, the Antarctic and the Arctic are changing in front of our eyes. Not that many of us go to the two poles. But the ones who do repeatedly are overwhelmed with unprecedented facts.
My friend Will Steger is one of them. Having been the first to reach the North Pole by dogsled unsupported and the first to cross the whole Antarctic continent by dogsled with an international team of five in the late 80’s and early 90’s, his team of explorers were the first also to cross the Arctic Ocean by dogsled in 1995. More than that, they are most likely the last ones to have done so, due to rapid sea-ice melt.
The melting of the Arctic sea ice is indeed alarming. The Arctic Ocean is loosing its lid – fast. In addition to the enhanced heat fluxes into the cooler atmosphere in most of the year, the ice-albedo, lapse-rate and Planck feedbacks each accelerate the warming in positive feedback mechanisms. Additionally, a melting Arctic also causes changes in the oceanic and atmospheric circulations, with alterations in poleward transports of heat and moisture.
The interaction between atmospheric circulation and the melting Greenland ice sheet and Arctic sea ice was the topic of my PhD. Associated with these melts, we found high-latitude storminess to decrease in summer (Knudsen et al. 2015). Instead, cyclones generally tracked more zonally, giving wetter, cooler and stormier summers in north-western Europe and around the Sea of Okhotsk. Coincidentally, unusually warm conditions have prevailed in a wide region from the Mediterranean to East Asia during summer months of anomalous high Arctic sea ice melt. These are areas of already high temperatures climatologically.
A stronger link between Arctic sea ice melt and mid-latitude extreme weather was first put forward by Francis and Vavrus (2012). They linked the Arctic amplification (the enhanced warming in the Arctic compared to the average warming across the globe) to a wavier the jet stream, where more stationary weather systems increase the risk of extreme weather conditions in midlatitudes. Since then, the theory has been and is still heavily discussed within the scientific community. Nevertheless, if their hypothesis should hold, a large fraction of the global population would need to reconsider the Arctic climate changes as too distant to reflect upon.
Of course, an even more alarming scenario is if the entire Antarctic ice sheet and the Greenland ice sheet were to melt completely. This would result in a sea level rise of over 60m. This will probably not happen within our lifetime, but enough ice has already melted to cause severe troubles for many Pacific Islands.
(credit: Pole to Paris)
How do you plan to do climate outreach along the two journeys?
Along the routes, we document climate changes and personal stories of environmental changes seen throughout their lifetime, but also the positive means by which action toward a more sustainable future is made. We give school and community presentations, arrange open climate events and unite people across a wide range of backgrounds. We speak up about climate change, knowing that we must work hard to stay objective in a politicized world.
How is your experience with Pole to Paris so far?
From left to right: Oria Jamar de Bolsée (EU and Indonesia coordinator in Pole to Paris), Beate Trankmann (head of UNDP Indonesia), Daniel Price (director of Pole to Paris), Toto Sugito (leader of Bike to Work Indonesia) and Erlend Moster Knudsen (deputy director of Pole to Paris) from car-free Sunday in Jakarta, Indonesia (credit: UNDP Indonesia)
Pole to Paris has gotten off to a really good start. We got a lot of attention on Indonesia, a key country for bridging the demands of developing and developed countries under COP21 negotiations. There, Daniel (the cyclist), Oria Jamar de Bolsée (EU and Indonesia coordinator) and I (the main runner) worked to raise the awareness of climate changes. This brought us from rural places to megacities, from preschools to high schools and talking with people from farmers to ministers. It has been very engaging.
While climate change is something distant for many of my fellow Norwegians, many Indonesians depend on the land and its resources. While human activities, such as deforestation, overfishing or lack of waste management, are the main source for this environmental degradation, climate change is also appearing in front of their eyes.
So perhaps it is not that far from the Arctic and the Antarctic to Indonesia after all? The Polar Regions are indeed shaping the coast of the archipelago, through sea level rise and erosion.
What do you expect from Paris and COP21?
The French capital is the arena for the most important climate summit this far – COP21. Pole to Paris is using bike, running shoes and our background in environmental sciences to raise awareness about the importance of this meeting.
While there, we will work with partners to arrange open events and share stories from all the corners of the world we have biked or run through. The stories of the farmers and the fishermen, the stories of the Antarctic and Arctic – all are important to remember when our global leaders will make their decision this December.
To conclude is there something you would like to say to your fellow environmental scientists?
In my mind, funded by society, scientists have a responsibility to speak up about our research. Research on climate change is too vital and pressing to keep within academia.
As environmental scientists, we have the knowledge and the tools. One of the latter is our voice. We want to hear yours too.