Raffel interviews glaciologist for project


VERSAILLES — Julie Raffel, an active member of the Blue Angels 4-H club, has done extensive research for her Exploring Polar Science project. Raffel reached out to a group of scientists from The Polar Science Center of Seattle, Wash. A Glaciologist, Michaela King, agreed to talk to her and answered her questions. Here is her interview.

Did you enjoy being a 4-H member? Can you tell me about your favorite projects?

Yes, I really enjoyed my time in 4-H! My neighbors invited me and my two siblings to join their club called the Ragersville Blue Ribbons. I really enjoyed raising dairy goats, but a lot of that had to do with how much fun I had at the fair and meeting new friends in the barns and when we would show our animals. I did not enjoy my sewing projects very much at the time, but now I wish I would have remembered more of the sewing skills I learned! I really enjoyed archery and astronomy, and I did a self-guided project on simple machines which was a lot of fun. I liked trying new projects every year that covered whatever I found interesting at that time in my life. I also liked that 4-H projects were open-ended, and you could be as creative as you wanted to be with the assignments and project goals.

Have you been to the Artic or Antarctic

Yes, I have been both to the Arctic and Antarctica. I’ve done fieldwork in the Juneau icefield, Alaska, and on the Greenland ice sheet. In Antarctica, we spent some time at McMurdo station (which is the largest US station in Antarctica) before traveling to the South Pole station to conduct our fieldwork. This summer I am going back to Greenland to teach a study abroad program there.

Does your research include in field or mostly computer work?

Most of the time, I am working at the computer. I spend a lot of time processing images taken by satellites to understand how the ice sheets and glaciers are changing over time. Although fieldwork is a smaller portion of my time, it is by far my favorite part of my job!

What is your daily routine with your research?

On a typical day, I head to my office at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. I spend some time getting caught up on emails, working on publications, and coding to process data and plot new results. I spend a lot of the day alone, but often have zoom meetings with collaborators (other scientists that I may be working with on projects) and have meetings and brainstorming sessions with other scientists in person at the Polar Science Center. Occasionally I will give talks to organizations or attend scientific conferences to present my results and learn what other scientists are working on.

How does your research help people and the world?

My research is focused on measuring how much ice is being lost from glaciers draining the ice sheets. By knowing the total volume of ice entering the ocean, it helps us better quantify sea level rise and project how sea level will rise in the future.

Is it possible that glaciers thousands of years ago formed the valleys and mountains of today?

Yes, absolutely. Glacial valleys have a distinct shape…instead of a typical “V” shaped valley (which is created as a river carves down through the rock over time, glacier valleys are shaped like a wide “U”. This is because as the glacier advances, is erodes the walls of the valleys and transports rock and debris further down the valley as the glacier flows.

Is it also possible that the mountains’ peaks could have been once where flat land started?

Yep! There are different types of mountains. Some of part of a larger mountain range that forms when tectonic plates collide and forces Earth’s crust upward. Here near Seattle, we can see two mountains from the city that are actually volcanoes. They formed over time as magma from eruptions built up the mountain higher and higher over hundreds of thousands of years.

Have you done any research on ice cores? Have you made any discoveries through them?

I haven’t worked with ice cores directly, but during my years in grad school at Ohio State, I worked at The Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center. They have a large freezer there that keeps ice cores from all over the world frozen and safe for scientists to examine. Many of these ice cores are super important because they were drilled from mountain glaciers that have melted or will melt very soon, erasing the record forever. Now in Seattle, I have colleagues that are conducting fieldwork in Antarctica to decide where to drill for the oldest ice in Antarctica.

What would you say is your most important tool/resource for your line of work?

Satellites! It is amazing how much information you can learn about the polar regions just from photographs. We can understand how the ice is thinning, and how fast the ice is moving through glaciers over time.

Did any of your past 4-H projects inspire you to become who you are today?

Hmm, I never did a project related to polar science, but I really enjoyed my astronomy project and making large-scale models of different constellations. I think that project made me realize how much I loved learning about natural science and started making me consider a career in science more seriously.

What would you say to young people who want to be a Glaciologist when they get older?

There is a wide range of skill sets that can be applicable to glaciology. Not all glaciologists conduct fieldwork, for example. Often, people will earn degrees in mathematics, physics, earth sciences, or engineering, then later decide to focus on a polar science research topic in grad school. It’s a very exciting and inspiring job and there is still so much for future glaciologists to learn! It is truly amazing that I can study a topic I find fascinating as my full-time job. A strong background in math and even some introductory coding skills can be very helpful for young people interested in glaciology.

If you had a choice to explore the Arctic or Antarctica what would you chose and why? Which is your favorite?

This is a really good question! They are both fascinating places. Antarctica is more remote and conducting fieldwork there is more logistically challenging because the continent is part of the Antarctic Treaty. This means that the only work that can be done in Antarctica has to be for science and research purposes and no single country “owns” any of the land. There are strict rules about trash and waste (for example, all trash, including human waste, has to be removed from the continent on a large barge ship). The ice sheet in Antarctica is so massive and ancient that it’s really inspiring to work there and it feels like a different planet. However, I think I prefer Greenland (the Arctic) because, in Greenland, the surface of the ice sheet gets warm enough in the summer to melt. This creates beautiful blue melt ponds and rivers that carve into the ice sheets and flows through and beneath the glaciers. I am really interested in how meltwater and ice interact on the ice sheet, so for me, Greenland has a slight edge over

Could you tell if you were in Antarctica or the Arctic if you didn’t know where you were?

Once you move away from the edges, both of the ice sheets look similar in the center. It’s basically very flat and white! It would be difficult to be able to tell the difference in this case. Antarctica is generally a bit colder than Greenland, but it would still be tough to tell. I think Greenland was about -15 to -20 degrees Celsius when I was there in May, and the South Pole, Antarctica, was about -20 to -25 degrees in January (which is summertime in the southern hemisphere).

I’ve been interested in meteorology and I know how glaciers form due to the water cycle. I know if most of the glaciers melted, the sea level will rise. Would that somehow effect daily weather? Or the oceans ecosystem?

Yes, it would affect both weather and oceans! Ice sheets are so big that they can kind of create their own weather – the ice can be more than 2 miles thick, so at the surface, it’s quite high in elevation. That means that any air passing over the ice sheets must be forced upward, or routes lower-level air flow around the ice sheets. This would change if all the ice were to melt (in fact, Greenland is actually several islands underneath if you were to remove all the ice). The ice sheets also affect weather patterns because they help cool the air because they are so bright and reflective. If the bright white surface was replaced with darker ground, that would mean the polar regions would absorb more sunlight instead of reflecting it, and get warmer. All the freshwater added to the ocean from ice melt would also impact ocean circulation and salinity. One area that many scientists study is how the warm Gulf Stream might be affected if enough freshwater disrupts the current, either diverting the warm water somewhere else or shutting down this current and how it circulates ocean water altogether.

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