Post from a Scientist: Don’t Tell Me You’ve Never Heard of Surging Glaciers!


I live and work on the northernmost inhabited settlement on Earth, on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. There, the land is 60% covered by glaciers, and our neighbors are polar bears. What better place to be to study glaciers? In my job, I’m like a doctor for glaciers. I measure their temperature, try to find out how big and how healthy they are, and how fast they’re moving. Just like there are different species of trees, there are different “species” of glaciers. The ones I study are incredibly funky, and are called surging glaciers. Surging glaciers have bipolar behavior. Some years they are completely sleepy, not doing much, while other years they go crazy and move so fast that you can see them flowing!

I’m very excited about being in McCarthy, first because I haven’t seen trees in months! It is way too cold in Svalbard! Joke aside, I applied to the course for its unique concept of trapping lecturers and students in the same place for 10 days. It is a great opportunity to meet all these current and future rock stars of glaciology, while enjoying the stunning scenery of the Alaskan wilderness.

Despite all of the technological progress we’ve made, it might be hard to get that there is still a lot we do not understand about glaciers, and in particular surging glaciers. They are very difficult to study – I mean putting sensors on a mass of ice weighing millions of tons and moving at speeds of up to 40 meters per day isn’t easy! If we manage to understand why they behave so strangely, we would improve greatly our understanding of all the other species of glaciers, whether they are in Alaska or Antarctica.

- Heidi, The University Centre in Svalbard, Norway

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