A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of presenting at the National Geographic Explorer’s Festival in London. This was an amazing opportunity to meet the inspirational Explorers and listen to them talk about AI solutions to conservation problems around the world. In the afternoon I spoke about my work on machine learning and remote sensing for monitoring glacier and ice sheet melting, and then participate in a panel discussion about the challenges of applying AI to environmental problems. The event was livestreamed and is now archived here (my part starts at 1:48).
The work I presented is supported by Microsoft and National Geographic through their AI for Earth scheme.
I recently published an article in Open Access Government about the potential for machine learning technologies to revolutionise Polar science, with focus on optical remote sensing data from drones and satellites. You can read it online or download it from OAGov_Oct18
Ice Alive has a life of it’s own – no longer just a film, now an organization that exists to promote emerging scientists and communicators working on Earth’s changing ice and snow. Our website (icealive.org) is almost ready to launch, and we have just announced our inaugural Ice Alive grant scheme!
The grant will support 2-4 individuals or teams that have a novel idea for communicating cryospheric science on the broad theme of “Ice Alive”. We hope to see applications from artists, performers, musicians, writers, educators, journalists, scientists – anyone who has a great idea for spreading cryospheric science to new audiences in exciting ways.
All the details are HERE – please spread the word and/or apply yourself before 31st July 2018.
The importance of communicating science, the value of art-science collaborations and the vulnerability of the Greenland Ice Sheet are the main topics of my radio interview at Monocle24, available to download HERE
In collaboration with Rolex Awards for Enterprise, Proudfoot Media and I have produced a documentary film explaining the latest research into the surprising hidden biology shaping Earth’s ice. The story is told by young UK Arctic scientists with contributions from guests including astronaut Chris Hadfield and biologist Jim Al-Khalili. We went to great lengths to make this a visually striking film that we hope is a pleasure to watch and communicates the otherwordly beauty and incredible complexity of the Arctic glacial landscape. We aim to educate, entertain and inspire others into exploring and protecting this most sensitive part of our planet in their own ways.
We think the film is equally suited to the general public as school and university students, and we are delighted to make this a free-to-all teaching resource. Please watch, share and use!
Alongside this film, I also collaborated with musician Hannah Peel on an audiovisual piece designed to communicate the complexity of process occurring on the Greenland Ice Sheet through sound. View the piece (good headphones recommended!) and write up here
The Year 6 Students at St Laurence Junior School in Ramsgate are lucky enough to be studying “Extreme Earth”, so I visited to talk about Earth’s extreme cold. Two of the students wrote a report about it here. We talked about different types of ice (ice sheets, glaciers and sea ice), climate change and how/why scientists live in the Arctic. We even had volunteer yr6 polar explorers dressed up ready for an Arctic expedition! Yesterday, I was delighted to receive a bundle of letters from the students with some extra questions that didn’t get asked in class – so here are my answers….
Q: Do you have a spare tent in case one breaks?
A: Yes, we try to have spares of everything because you never know what might happen in an Arctic camp, and there are no shops to go and buy replacements. In summer 2017, our tent was destroyed by a storm so the spare came in very useful!
Q: How much equipment do you own?
A: Quite a lot, but working in the Arctic means there is a lot of wear and tear on the equipment. It always needs to be in good working condition, so lots of things only last for a few years. Often the equipment is not owned by scientists, but is owned by a university or whoever funds the project.
Q: What is your favourite part of your job?
A: This is a really tough question. I really love working in remote, cold places because it is beautiful and challenging, but I also love the other parts of my job like computer programming, writing papers and articles, analysing data, and talking to students. Most polar scientists spend less than 20% of their time actually working in the ice and snow, so they have to learn to love all the other things too. I think that’s true of most cool-looking jobs.
Q: Do your friends think you have a cool job?
A: Some do, and others don’t. Some people really hate the cold or don’t like the idea of being away from home comforts for long periods of time. Others don’t like the idea of working for a university. But mostly, yes, people think it’s quite cool.
Q: Where are you going next?
A: My next trip will be to New Orleans (USA) to talk to other scientists at a big meeting in December. After that, I’ll be going to Svalbard (Arctic Norway) in the spring. Then it depends how much funding I can find!
Q: Do you enjoy your job?
Q: How long is the journey from here to Greenland?
A: We have to fly from the UK to either Copenhagen (Denmark) or Reykjavik (Iceland) and then get another flight from there to Greenland. There are several places to fly to in Greenland but often people go to Kangerlussuaq. There we take a helicopter to our field site, or if we want to work near the edge of the ice, we can trek in and camp.
Q: How many people are in your team?
A: It changes for each project, but normally between 3 and 8 people. Less than three is not very safe, but more than 8 is awkward for cooking and keeping a well-ordered camp. There is also a limit on the number of people that can be squished into a helicopter, and it is usually too expensive to do repeated flights.
Q: Will you ever quit?
A: Maybe! I really love doing this job at the moment, and I’d like to keep doing it. However, one of the downsides is that it is not very secure, and once my current contract runs out in 2019 I’m not sure what opportunities will be out there, so I’m totally open to looking outside of academia for the next challenge.
Q: What was your worst adventure?
A: We once had an eventful field season involving illness, broken equipment, arguing team mates and a car crash that was not very much fun!
Q:Have you ever found animal DNA in the ice?
A: Cool question – one of the things I’ve been working on is the microbiology of glaciers and ice sheets. One of the most useful tools we have to do this is gene sequencing, because by looking at the genes we can tell which microbes live in the ice. In class people were interested to hear whether I’d found any woolly mammoth, dinosaurs or UFO’s and I’m afraid I haven’t seen evidence of those in DNA extracts either.
Q: What food do you eat in the Arctic?
A: We cook on a gas stove and what we eat depends how long we are there for. In a one-week camp we might eat pouches of dehydrated food most nights because it is easy to make and compresses down for transport. For a longer field camp it is important to be well-nourished so we take more care to eat a more balanced diet. This is typically dried pasta, rice, spaghetti or instant mashed potato with tinned vegetables, tinned fish or maybe some cured meat. Some things can be kept cold by burying them in the ice.
Q: How much do you get paid a week?
A: This is a very common question and, while I’m not giving out a number, I do think it’s important to point out that this is not a job to choose if making money is a main motivation. If, however, life experience, challenge and positive impact are your main motivators, then it might be a really good choice.
Q: What is the scariest thing you’ve done on the ice?
A: In September this year we explored a system of ice caves by abseiling in. As we were preparing to go in for the first time we knocked a piece of ice in to see how deep the cavern was – it took a full 7 seconds to hit the bottom, and when it did it made a huge echoing BOOM that told us it was very deep and very big! It wasn’t really scary, but it was really exciting!
Q: What is the coldest temperature you have experienced?
A: In Svalbard last winter we were working in -35 degrees. It was very difficult to do fiddly work on drones and other science kit because as soon as you take the big mittens off your hands go numb, even with thinner gloves on!
Q: What do you miss when you go away?
A: I miss my wife – Kylie – and my cat – Shackleton – like crazy! And I miss food like fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh bread etc. But honestly, once I’m back on dry land I immediately miss living in a tent on the ice!
Thanks for all the questions! Best of luck with your Extreme Earth topic!