Association of Polar Early Career Scientists
 

The APECS Education and Outreach Committee is starting up a new initiative to showcase outreach activities by scientists, researchers, research institutions and field stations in the Polar Regions and communities. We want to highlight ongoing outreach efforts as well as provide resources and examples of both successes and challenges for current outreach practitioners. If you have an outreach story you'd like to have featured or know of a Polar research institution or field station actively pursuing outreach, public consultation or community based research, please email your story or suggestions for a story to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.!

Practicing your way to effective science communication

The alarmist approach to conveying science doesn’t really work for me: The earth is warming, glaciers are melting, all the phytoplankton in the ocean are going to die and the entire food web will collapse, so we need to study this now! It’s too Chicken Little. But I’m noticing, in all the literature I read and the grant proposals I’m starting to write, we are pushed to justify why our work is the most crucial, the most underappreciated, the first of its kind. We are trained to convey urgency and importance, sometimes over exaggerating what we know to be true, so we can get the funding or get the story published.

But does that approach work for everyone? Of course not. Scientists have evolved beyond their peer-reviewed publications to need to communicate through multiple platforms: lectures, news media, personal interactions, blogs, etc. and to multiple age ranges: K-grey, non-scientists, policy makers, grant funders. So how do we best do that, hitting the sweet spot of communication?

Everyone is hooked in a different way. When you say the word “Science”, I immediately want to know more, but I’m a scientist. In that respect, it’s been a challenge for me to figure out how to communicate to a wider audience where just saying the word science doesn’t capture the attention of my audience. I am constantly asking my mom and business friends to read over my work. They each give me different opinions. But all of them have told me to stop leading with the scientific justification. During my Master of Advanced Studies program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), we were taught how to convert scientific work into an engaging “sticky” presentation. We read the book ‘Made to Stick’ and learned that there is a formula for communicating that boils down to one main idea: make it sticky. The goal is obvious, but the method to get there can take many forms—one needs to connect to the audience through surprise, inquiry, or a personal story. We practiced each of these different approaches aimed at connecting to an audience, and our peers let us know what worked and what did not work. We presented scientific papers in the stickiest way possible, sometimes feeling like we were doing the science a disservice by not divulging all the nitty gritty details.

I am now a first-year graduate student in the PhD program at SIO under Dr. Maria Vernet. I lead a citizen science project with the tourism industry in Antarctica called FjordPhyto. Our project encourages passengers to get involved in collecting phytoplankton samples from polar coastal fjords. They learn about the ocean in ways they may never have previously considered and the samples help us understand how the community of phytoplankton changes throughout the season in response to increased levels of glacial meltwater. I have had to communicate in a countless variety of ways. Some come more naturally to me, others I struggle to find the appropriate words and style through which to communicate. Over the course of running this project I have communicated with polar guide staff, trained non-scientists to follow scientific protocols, provided short videos introducing myself and the project to travelers. I even had a chance to board one of the ships to give in-person lectures to the guests. I share stories and results through the project website, blog posts, and social media platforms. I created a crowdfunding campaign to interest donors in supporting our project. I’ve started on the journey of grant writing, and I attend conferences to speak to a wide audience of scientists, educators, and policy-makers about my work. How do I know how to do all this communication and outreach?

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I’m winging it.

Nowhere in our PhD program are we required to take courses on communication development. If we want that training, we need to look for opportunities offered outside of our program. The good news is, that training does exist. I’ve attended communication workshops, workshops on how to give a TED talk, and how to write for different non-science audiences. I’ve organized talks on science and career opportunities at classrooms, cafes, and pubs just to put myself out there in front of people. I’ve developed social media platforms and two websites that I post regularly on: www.womanscientist.com, which highlights my science career and showcases inspiring women in field sciences through blogs, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and www.fjordphyto.org, which hosts information on the citizen science project we run in Antarctica.

What I’ve realized, is that the key to communication is to just do it. It is a skill you build over time. Just write. Just blog. Just make a video. Just start somewhere with anything you want to share. It doesn’t always have to be polished when you first start out. Forget perfection! I often reread old posts I’ve written and cringe. But that’s not what matters. What matters is that I’m engaging with people. The key is to share that I’m a personable human, and a scientist. I’m not a sterile being wearing a lab coat, working robotically in the lab.

If you had told me when I was younger that I would teach high school classes, run two websites, speak on ships to tourists about science, write research papers and grant proposals, I would have told you you’ve got the wrong person. I was the shy kid at school. So shy in fact that multiple people wrote in my yearbook: “You seem cool, you should talk more.” What did they mean? What do people talk about?! I observed my peers trying to figure it out. Looking back, I realize this was my first step to learning the art of communication. How do people know what to say and when to say it? I analyzed. Overanalyzed. Just like a scientist. Then one day it hit me. Communication is an art. There is no right way, no one way. People are curious and want to connect with other people. So just share your stories. Be a personable person. Share the work you’re doing and the emotions you have about your ups and downs in science. Storytelling and communication are skills and once you build a good skill base, you can practice the art and transform it into something of your own.

Of course, I still get nervous. I obsess over whether I’ll say the right thing, have the right explanation, give the right answer. But I remind myself that I’m human too. I have the skills, now I’m working on the art and I can communicate in the ways I feel impact a wide audience. Whatever I say, it will be OK. If I want to use the alarmist approach to hook people, or avoid it and just use a personal story, I can do that. I have a lot of fun in my line of work as a young world-traveling oceanographer, and I want others to be curious about the natural world, pursue that curiosity, and be inspired to get involved in science themselves. That is the angle I take when sharing my science.

On the Organisation of Climate Change Outreach Events

I am Sarah Mercer, a Research Masters student in Geography and Archaeology at Durham University, UK. I have been lucky enough to have worked with USAPECS Board Member Mariama Dryak on an event in 2017 titled Changes in the Arctic, a climate change outreach event at Durham University. This directly led to me organising the event that I am running this year entitled Footprint. Footprint is a two day event, aiming to bring people from all walks of life together to talk about environmental protection and climate change communication.

My own interest lies in the communication of climate science, so that is what I will focus on in this article. In my own experience, I get the feeling that climate change communication is often extremist, problem loaded and overwhelmingly negative, with ideas such as “it’s too late” or “we can't do enough” thrown around more often than not. While I understand this comes from a desire to highlight the importance of climate change, I believe the common ‘Doomsday’ rhetoric is damaging to our attitudes towards climate change, and fosters an attitude of willful ignorance and laissez-faire. Per Espen Stoknes states that “If you overuse fear-inducing imagery, what you get is fear and guilt, and this makes people more passive”. Being faced with an ‘insurmountable problem’ causes people to become disheartened, disengaged and disinterested. However, this is not the only way climate change, and indeed other scientific issues, have to be talked about.

If we are thinking about effective science communication, one might consider two things. One, for the audience to understand the science and two, for the audience to care enough to take personal action. There is no point communicating a scientific discovery/solution if it will go no further than the lecture hall in which you present. While many people do still deny climate change, there is a widespread understanding that it is happening, and that anthropogenic factors are contributing to the issue. However, where climate change communication breaks down is in the second aim: getting the audience to care.

Although I am no expert in climate change communication, I do believe there is no one solution to the communication issue. Scientific communication has to be tailored to your audience. Just as you wouldn’t give the same speech about your research to your research fellows as a presentation at a local primary school, we cannot use the same techniques when attempting to communicate science with the entire global population. Where a fiery speech might inspire one person to take action, a more intimate personal conversation might be more effective for another. Different people need different communication techniques. However, I do think a running theme across all of scientific communication is that we need to move from focusing on communicating just the problems, to what we can do about them.

My aim with this climate change outreach event, Footprint, is to put these ideas into action. By encouraging a more positive conversation about climate change, and by focusing on solutions for smaller problems within the wider issue, I am aiming to foster attitudes of hope, passion, and a feeling that something can be achieved within those that attend. To do this we are bringing in a range of speakers introducing various perspectives on varied climate change related matters including: the legalities of climate change, diet, social enterprising, politics, economy, urban ecology, community gardening, carbon literacy, campaign planning, zero waste, nature in education, green energy, faith and climate, carbon conversations, art and the environment, creative writing, music and the cultural dimensions of ecological crisis. By offering a vast range of topics, we aim to engage people from many different backgrounds and with many different interests. We are also experimenting with communication format. Rather than running two full days of talks, we are providing a variety of mediums through which to communicate. For example, the event will include not only talks, but also workshops, hands on activities, crafting sessions, planting sessions, musical performances, culture and art exhibitions, one on one conversations, and formal as well as informal discussion sessions. While this is not an exhaustive list of formats that could be included, we are hoping that everyone in attendance will find one or two formats that work for them. And if an attendee does not find a technique that works for them, then the discussion sessions will allow that person to think about what communication techniques would work for them, and invite thoughts about that.

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I also want to discuss the limitations of using an environmental event to communicate science. Firstly, you are likely to only attract people who are already somewhat interested in climate change and have the means to travel to the event. While I feel Footprint will provide them with a platform from which to develop their interest, there is always the risk that you are preaching to the converted. Secondly, putting on such an event is expensive. Without funding from the university and local council, this event would not be possible on the same scale. Thirdly, it is a one-time event, which limits its reach temporally. Will it realistically have any impact after people leave?

In attempt to address this question to the affirmative, I aim to develop a community from Footprint through the creation of the Activism Forum. This Activism Forum will be a place at the end of the two days for the attendees to come together and work on ideas developed throughout the event with the help of the speakers who have been present at the event. The overall aim of the forum is to have action plans put in place before people leave, therefore inspiring people to continue the work they have begun at the event. These include ideas such as wildflower planting throughout Durham, campaigning for disposable cups not to be sold at University, and planning a community garden amongst many other. Though an event such as this does have limitations, I am optimistic and hopeful about the impact that Footprint, and similar events, will have.

The organisation of Footprint was inspired by having the desire to find out more about what I personally can do to reduce my environmental footprint, and has transformed into an opportunity to share such ideas with others. It is aimed at discovering how we as individuals and communities can communicate climate change information more effectively and facilitating learning about climate footprint reduction amongst the event attendees. Organising this event has been an amazing and challenging new experience for me. Negotiating the rough terrain of funding applications, attracting speakers, arranging venues, and recruiting volunteers and participants, has concreted in my mind that with determination, time and a little help from friends, climate change communication is not exclusively the realm of experts or professionals but is something that anyone who wants to make a difference in this area can think about doing.

That being said, if you are thinking about organising your own event, here are my top tips:

  1. Do everything earlier than you think, particularly venue booking
  2. Be brave. Pen Hadow has been kind enough to come and speak at Footprint, but only because I bucked up the courage to introduce myself and ask him to speak for us at another conference he was attending.
  3. Keep pushing. If you know you really want something, don’t give up on it. Be realistic, but don’t let other people (and they will) push their opinions onto you until your event becomes something you don’t recognise.
  4. Think. I am impulsive, which can be useful at times, but when balanced with more thoughtfulness it results in a more cohesive event.
  5. HAVE FUN. I have met and talked with some of the most incredible people, I have worked with the most passionate and invested students, I have seen that my university and my city has so much to offer, and it has made me feel inspired and thrilled to be doing what I am doing. Don’t let the boring logistics get you down – remember why you wanted to organise the event in the first place, and throw yourself into it.

Thank you so much for reading this article, and I really hope that if you have an idea for scientific outreach event, about which you are passionate, this has inspired you to put plans into action. I would whole-heartedly recommend it – organising Footprint and Changes in the Arctic have been the best things that I have done at university. I plan to write another article following Footprint with updates on how the event goes on the day, so keep an eye out for that in the future.

Finding Your Voice: Public Speaking and the Communication of Science

Public speaking is probably one of the most valuable skills that we can develop. World leaders in business, politics, and law have espoused this for decades, and, yet, too many of us scientists aren’t developing these skills. Here, I’ll talk a little bit about my own experiences in public speaking, what it’s taken me to get better, and some ways that you can find your voice for communicating science through the spoken word.

A Little Bit About Me

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My name is Graham. I’m an astrobiologist and a communicator of science.

My graduate research dealt with the geochemistry and mineralogy of sulfur-cycling in a glacial environment in the Canadian High Arctic. Up on Ellesmere Island, in Northern Canada, there’s a valley called Borup Fiord Pass , where a supraglacial sulfide-spring system has formed, delivering sulfide form the subsurface to the surface environment, where the sulfide then oxidizes and forms extensive deposits of elemental sulfur. It’s a pretty sweet site! As the sulfur springs at the glacier provide a window into the things that are happening in the ground beneath the ice, this site is considered to be one of Earth’s best analogs for Europa.

Outside of my research, I’ve also spent a good deal of time developing my skills as a communicator of science. When I was a kid, I loved watching television shows and documentaries about nature and space. There were times when I would imagine myself being a Carl Sagan or a Bill Nye and sharing the wonders of the universe with other people. In college, I decided that I wanted to make that dream a reality, but I knew that I’d have to do something about my nervousness and fear of public speaking.

The Journey of a Thousand Miles…

When I realized that I wanted to be a good public speaker but that it would require that I actually, well, get over my fears of public speaking, I figured the best way to go about it was to see if there was help. I found a public speaking practicum, a one-credit course, at my undergrad college and registered for it. The practicum provided a safe place for being nervous in front of a group of other students. This was my entry into the world of public speaking.

I ended up taking four semesters of public speaking practicum, and that led to taking an undergrad course in public speaking, which then led to me to find a Toastmasters club to join. Toastmasters International is a public speaking and leadership organization. With over 15,000 clubs in most of the nations of the world and hundreds of thousands of members, Toastmasters is one of the best-known places for improving your skills in public speaking. Toastmasters meetings provide ample opportunities for speaking, including the delivery of prepared speeches. I used Toastmasters to practice for my qualifying exam and my doctoral dissertation defense, making both far easier in the long run. The best part of Toastmasters, in my opinion, is a game called Table Topics, where you stand up to give a 1- to 2-minute speech about a topic that you don’t know about until just before you start speaking. Table Topics helped me learn how to speak off-the-cuff on just about any topic.

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Toastmasters helped me to find my comfort in front of audiences. It also led me to try my hand at a competition in science communication called Famelab. Famelab is an international scicomm competition where early career scientists give a 3-minute speech on a single topic and are then judged on their content, clarity, and charisma. When I first tried it in 2012, I didn’t do so well. But I worked on my speechcraft and tried it again in 2014, at which point I won a regional competition in New York. That win led me to the National Final of the 3rd Season of Famelab USA, which was held in 2016 at the Carnegie Institution in Washington D.C.. There I gave a talk entitled “This Thing is Older Than Your Mom”, where I shared a story about my favorite meteorite with the audience. It was an awesome experience. Beyond the fun of sharing our stories on the stage and supporting each other as early career scientists, Famelab participants also take part in workshops and master classes on how to communicate science effectively. For the Famelab USA National Final in 2016, we were offered a master class by Malcolm Love, a master trainer in effective communication.

My experiences in Toastmasters and Famelab have definitely helped me to find my voice. I’ve now given public talks in schools, planetariums, and museums. I’ve done some standup science comedy in museums, bars, and even at a tech startup event. My efforts in speaking about science has definitely become a major part of my career. But enough about me, what can you do to become more effective in speaking about science?

Finding Your Voice

We are arguably at a time when developing skills for effectively communicating science to a board variety of audiences is just as important for the early career scientist as learning how to conduct research and report findings in peer-reviewed research. Sadly, this has not yet been developed into our early career training in graduate schools and research institutions. However, if you’d like to get a leg up in the world of science communication and learn how to be a better public speaker, here are some tips and tools that you might find useful:

  • Join Toastmasters. Seriously. Memberships in Toastmasters are really cheap (usually somewhere in the range of ~$10 each month) but they pay off amazingly. Toastmasters offers an environment where you can be nervous and maybe mess up or misspeak without feeling like you’re being judged for it. There are so many Toastmasters clubs out there. There’s a good chance that there’s one near you! You can use this site to look for local clubs. And, like I said, you can use a Toastmasters club to practice for your important speeches, like your dissertation defense or career interviews.
  • Read some books. There are lots of great resources out there. Confessions of a Public Speaker and The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking are two books that I can recommend for finding some solid advice on how to find your voice in public speaking. For anyone who does work as a guide, interpreter, or tour leader through natural environments or in museums and zoos, the book Personal Interpretation: Connecting Your Audience with Heritage Resources is a great read. It was written by Tim Merriman and Lisa Brochu. Lisa was one of the primary judges for Famelab USA and Tim was one of the workshop hosts. They have both cultivated a deep understanding of how to connect with your audience and have helped a lot of scientists and field guides learn how to interpret our knowledge of the natural world for their audience(s).
  • Take to the interwebs. There are a lot of great resources out there. Six Minutes and Presentation Zen have a lot of useful articles on developing your speechcraft, finding your voice, and effectively communicating with your audience.
  • Train yourself. Honestly, practicing on your own is one of the best things you can do. I can’t recount the number of times my huskies have had to sit on the couch and provide an audience while I worked through some speeches in practice. Sometimes I’ll record a video of myself speaking so that I can go back and watch the video to see how my voice sounds, how I’m articulating certain words and statements, and to see if there might be a better way to use my hand gestures or posture to make a point come across stronger. It feels a little weird the first few times you watch yourself like this, but it definitely helps overcome some nervousness for speaking when you already have a developed set of skills for articulating certain kinds of ideas. One thing I like to do is rehearse my favorite speeches or lines of dialogue from games and movies. Charlie Chaplin’s closing speech in The Great Dictator and Carl Sagan’s monologue for Pale Blue Dot are two that I rehearse fairly often.
  • Practice diction exercises. Okay, bear with me here, this might feel a little weird and make you feel like you’re in second grade again, but practicing diction exercises (https://www.write-out-loud.com/dictionexercises.html) can be helpful for training yourself as a public speaker. I like to run through some diction exercises at least once a week. If you really want to have some fun in pronunciation, try correctly reading "The Chaos" by Gerard Nolst Trenité (the English language can be pretty weird sometimes).
  • Find opportunities to speak. As with just about anything, the best way to get good at public speaking is to do it. It turns out that a lot of schools, libraries, museums, and zoos would love to hear what you have to say about your research and your work in the sciences. Sometimes all it can take is an email or phone call to a coordinator to find a chance to speak to an audience at their venue. There are also open mics at bars and coffee shops. Sure, sometimes they focus on music or poetry or standup comedy, but some open mic nights are truly open and you can just get up and speak about how cool your science is. There are also public speaking events like Ignite, the Moth, and TED/TEDx talks. You can also do an internet search for local events and conferences and see if any of them need speakers. (Note: sadly, Famelab USA is no longer holding events, but any of you in other countries may have a Famelab competition in your nation.

Beyond training in public speaking and then getting out there and doing it, it’s crucial to develop your message and discover your own style. Some speakers are better at moving and speaking quickly while others speak slower and use less body motion. Some of us tend more towards speaking seriously with little injections of humor while others will use humor throughout their speeches. As you develop your speaking style, you’ll discover what works best for you.

We as early career scientists are especially poised for developing intriguing talks. People want to hear about the cool things we’re discovering about the natural world! I’ve found that I can focus on delivering even just one idea about a topic and the audience will love it. There’s no need to go overboard with the details. Finally, when finding your own voice, it’s good to remember the passion and the enthusiasm that got you into your field of study in the first place. Some folks might not feel the same, but they’ll definitely notice when you’re excited to share an interesting topic with them.

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Communicating science from the field through the Follow a Researcher® Program

I am a doctoral student of glaciology at the University of Maine and my main research project focuses on ice shelf break up processes in Antarctica. As of six years ago I never would have imagined that I’d be traveling the world to study glaciers. I grew up in Georgia, studied physics in college, and it wasn’t until my final year in undergraduate studies that I was exposed to glaciology and discovered the world of academic research.

This past October I blogged from the field and participated in the Follow a Researcher® program. Both of these attempts to share my research were fueled by the simple fact that I feel incredibly lucky to be in the field of glaciology, a field upon which I stumbled by accident. Through these outreach efforts I shared my experiences as an early career scientist in the hopes of reaching younger students who might have never thought to explore STEM related fields, as well as others interested in following the scientific process as it unfolds. In this blog I will briefly highlight my experiences working with Follow a Researcher® (FAR), an outreach program that allows K-12 students and teachers connect and interact with scientists in the field.

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Blogging from the back of a pistenbully. Mount Erebus can be seen through the left-hand window.

My fieldwork focuses on the McMurdo Shear Zone, an area of intense crevassing between the Ross Ice shelf and the neighboring McMurdo Ice Shelf. During October and November of last year I joined a team of scientists from the University of Maine and Dartmouth to study this remote Antarctic region. My research aimed to monitor crevassing within the shear zone using a combination of GPS and ground penetrating radar (GPR) surveys. Before I set out on my expedition, I worked with the FAR team to create educational videos that would be shown to students following my research around the state of Maine each week that I was in the field. We created five videos to be released on a weekly basis during my expedition, with each highlighting a step in the scientific process. Video topics included: gathering background information, asking questions and identifying problems, deciding what data to collect, planning a field expedition, and processing data and using models.

Each week that I was in the field, FAR would host a live twitter session where students could ask me questions while I was working on the science they had been following in the Antarctic. Using a DeLorme InReach, a satellite-based texting device, I could answer their inquiries in real time. Of course, due to the 18hr time difference between the eastern US coast and Antarctica, a reasonable time for students to ask questions meant answering questions at 6am Antarctic time for me! Consequently, I live-tweeted from the depths of my toasty sleeping bag. Questions typically aligned with the video of the week, but occasionally I’d get creative questions such as “Does the moon look upside down from the southern hemisphere?”, “How can you breathe in Antarctica if there are no trees?”, and “Are there rare Pokémon you can collect in Antarctica?”.

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Photo of DeLorme InReach device from inside my sleeping bag

I also had the opportunity to play around with another neat gadget that made communication efforts more interesting this season: a 360-degree video camera. This was the first time that the camera was taken into the field, and I had fun experimenting with places to mount the camera so as to display the Antarctic environment from various unique perspectives. My favorite place on which to mount it ended up being on the front of my snowmobile as I was moving between field sites. At the end of the field season, I used the collection of 360-degree footage to put together a video recap of my expedition for the students who had been following along on the adventure, which you can find here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-ZLyCtHQaA

After I returned to Maine from fieldwork, I visited a group of fourth graders that followed my field journey at one of local schools near the University of Maine. It was incredibly rewarding to interact with some of the students who followed my field expedition in person and see their excitement about research in Antarctica. During my visit I shared my final video, answered more questions and guided a few interactive educational activities with fellow glaciology student Mariama Dryak. We hosted cold weather layering exercises, 3D video tours of my field site in Antarctica, and had the students physically create of ‘model’ of the debuttressing effect that occurs when ice shelves are lost in front of glaciers.

The educational videos and exercises I put together through FAR from this season are still available online here, and FAR is currently gearing up for their new season to begin April 23rd and follow Tyler Van Kirk and his graduate work along the Maine coast. I’m incredibly thankful to the hard workers at FAR for allowing me to participate in this past year’s program. While this program is unique to UMaine, I have learned several techniques through my engagement that are transferrable to others interested in communicating science from the field. The most valuable advice I can give is to have a fellow science communicator as a point of contact who is not in the field. Whether its formatting blog posts, setting up Skype interviews, or double checking your time zone conversion, having a point of contact who’s connected to the internet will help tremendously. And of course, being someone else’s contact gives you a chance to continue engaging in outreach when you’re in between adventures.

Communicating Science Through Art

My name is Jill Pelto, I am a Masters student at the University of Maine in the Earth and Climate Sciences Department, and I work in the Antarctic. My research addresses the history of the ice sheet over the last 10,000 years, focusing on the retreat of ice in the southern Ross Embayment. This sort of paleoclimate work is done in large part to learn about the sensitivity of the Antarctic Ice Sheet in the past to various ocean and climate parameters, to better understand how it may respond to current change.

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I am also a climate change artist, and I create paintings that address both positive and negative environmental topics, with the aim of using art as a platform for effective science communication.

US Blog 2As an undergraduate student I worked on two separate majors at UMaine: Studio Art and Earth Science, and I developed a strong drive to link the often disparate fields. In my painting and printmaking courses I sought to compose images that shared what I was learning in my classes about the climate and glacier systems. I was inspired to share important environmental topics, as well as subjects that are simply fascinating to learn about. I was able to work in the field several times in my undergraduate career with Dr. Brenda Hall, and created field sketches and watercolors while doing work in these places, which included a field season in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. Over my five years in these programs I continued to develop ideas for showcasing science in my art, with my overarching goal being a meaningful communication about our natural world.

I wanted to gauge reactions to my artwork, and my initial audience was my classmates, professors, friends, and family. I was able to hear various interpretations of what my art communicated to them both emotionally and informationally. My objective was to engage people broadly by creating pieces that could express clearly and impactfully.

So far, the most successful and creative approach I have developed is incorporating graphical data into my artwork. I use x-y plots that tell simple stories of change over time, and link these with a visual message about the research question. Several topics I’ve chosen are: increasing temperatures over the last century and how this affects forest fire frequency; melting sea ice in the arctic and how this impacts species that rely on it; a shift in the United States to green energy use and how this inspires further conservation.

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One of the first steps I plan to take as I finish graduate school and begin my career is to collaborate with scientists from a myriad of disciplines to communicate the research that they do with a broader audience. Art is a powerful form of expression, and is an excellent platform for inspiring thought. Whether I can transform reactions to my art into inspiring action is a question I hope to be able to answer in the years to come; but, without a doubt, I will try!

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Another major goal of mine is to continue to use my data art to teach younger generations about our changing world. It’s absolutely crucial that we share and instill an understanding of the impact of humanity on the environment, in school systems world-wide. I helped to develop a lesson plan about my work with Science Friday’s Ryan Becker, and it has been absolutely wonderful to see the creations of students from around the world, and how the students have learned from this! (https://www.sciencefriday.com/educational-resources/illustrated-graphs-using-art-enliven-scientific-data/).

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I still have a lot to learn about communication, and I am continuing to explore different ways to mix science and art. One of the biggest inspirations for me has been working in Antarctica, it was so impactful to actually visualize the role of the ice sheets for maintaining the sea level and climate we live in today. Once I finish my degree, I plan to make a series about the beauty and vulnerability of these locations.

As early career scientists, we are entering a field that needs more clear, and more diverse, communication with the public. I encourage you all to seek various methods of sharing your research, and note that collaboration with others (journalists, artists, writers, teachers, etc.) is a really successful way to achieve this. It’s important for us as scientists to start thinking outside of the box, and begin to explore unique, alternative methods through which to communicate science.

Telling People About the Stuff You Study

Effective communication of science to a wide audience is arguably as important as the science itself, although it receives less attention in the academic world. As a first-year master’s student, I can finally say that I am relatively confident in my ability to read an academic journal article and come away from it with an understanding of the scientific questions answered and the big-picture implications of the results—provided that the paper relates to my specific sub-field. The further the topic strays from atmospheric dynamics as inferred from ice core chemistry, however, the more lost I become. Now don’t get me wrong, I totally understand the importance of publishing technical papers in academic journals written for an audience of experts. But everyone—experts, non-experts, people of all academic levels and concentrations—is dependent upon nature. And in a world where the natural sciences are increasingly tied to politics, it is essential for policymakers, and those who elect them, to be able to understand how we affect nature and how we can better coexist with it.

One of my favorite sessions at the 2016 American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference involved talks by scientists about their research, with the caveat that they could only use the 1,000 most used English words. This was a refreshing break from many of the other talks I’d been to that day, which, as an undergrad attending my first AGU meeting, had been way over my head.

It took one Google search to find this helpful Text Editor created by Theo Sanderson. The page allows users to type into a box and underlines any word that is not one of the 1,000 most used. As an example, here is the original text of my undergraduate thesis title and abstract followed by the “translation” I came up with:

Original:

“Evaluating Precipitation in Southern Alaska using Ice Core and Automatic Weather Station Records”

Precipitation in Alaska is sensitive to the Aleutian Low (ALow) pressure system and North Pacific sea-surface temperatures, as shown by the increase in Alaskan sub-Arctic precipitation associated with a shift in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) in 1976. Precipitation in the high-elevation accumulation zones of Alaskan alpine glaciers provides critical mass input for glacial mass balance, which has been declining in recent decades due to warmer summer temperatures despite the winter precipitation increase. Twin ice cores holding a climate record of more than 1,200 years, collected from the summit plateau of Mount Hunter in Denali National Park, Alaska, show a doubling of annual snow accumulation over the past 150 years, with most of the change observed in the winter. Other alpine ice cores collected from the Alaska and St. Elias ranges show similar snowfall increases over recent decades. Here we use Automatic Weather Station (AWS) data from the Mt. Hunter drill site (elevation 3,900 m a.s.l.) and from nearby Denali climber’s Base Camp (elevation 2,195 m a.s.l.), as well as from various low- altitude coastal sites throughout south-central Alaska, to evaluate alpine and lowland Alaskan precipitation on annual, seasonal, and storm-event timescales over the time period from 2013- 2016. Through this analysis, we determine that synoptic patterns associated with individual storms at the Denali ice core site are consistent with seasonally-averaged anomalies for the wettest seasons over the entire south-central Alaska region, which provides confidence in our ability to use the ice core as a regional climate proxy. We focus on the role of variable ALow and North Pacific High strength in influencing seasonal variations in Alaskan storm tracks and find that differences in synoptic conditions, such as precipitation, sea level pressure, and winds, are associated with differences in the paths of regional-scale storms between summer and winter. Our analysis will improve our paleoclimate interpretations of the 1,200-year Mt. Hunter accumulation record as well as improve our ability to understand low-elevation hydroclimate proxies from lake sediment cores.

1,000 Most Used Words Translation:

“Studying stuff that falls from the sky using sticks of ice and stuff that has already fallen from the sky”

Stuff that falls from the sky in the highest-up US state responds to changes in where the air goes and to how warm the big water body is. In high-up places that are home to really big bodies of ice, ice-rain is important for the big bodies of ice to stay as big as they are. They have been getting smaller because it is getting warmer, even though more ice-rain is falling during the time of year when it's cold. Two sticks of ice were taken from one of the big ice bodies, and they can tell us what the air used to feel like and how much stuff used to fall from the sky. They show that in the past 150 years, the number of ice-rains has gone up times two. Most of the going-up has happened during the part of the year when it's cold. Other ice sticks taken from places close by show pretty much the same thing. Here, we look at how much ice-rain has fallen from the sky at the high-up place we took the ice sticks from, at a slightly lower place, and at several different places that are much lower (next to the big body of water). We are studying how much has fallen at these places each year, each part of the year, and during times when the sky is angry, for the time from 2013 to 2016. By doing this, we found out that when the sky is angry at the high-up places, it is also angry at the lower places. This makes us feel that we can use the ice sticks to find out how the air used to feel and how much stuff used to fall from the sky in this whole area. We also focus on how the sky is acting to make rain and ice-rain come in from different directions at different times of year. This study will help us use the ice sticks to learn more about how it used to be in this area. It will also make it easier to use sticks of brown stuff from the floor of little bodies of water to understand how the air used to feel and how much stuff fell from the sky in low places that don't have any big bodies of ice.

Obviously, effective science communication for a wide audience would fall somewhere in between these two renditions (unless you happen to be giving a talk in a kindergarten classroom). This task was initially difficult for me—I don’t normally think of storms as “times when the sky is angry”! —but it became easier as my brain shifted its way of communicating. This makes me believe that science can be made understandable for an audience of any level, as long as we challenge our minds to think in ways we aren’t used to, or necessarily comfortable with. Fundamentally, what truths do we as scientists want to convey?

With that, I challenge you scientists out there to try this exercise for yourself! And if you are coming from outside of science and run into road-blocks in understanding technical scientific writing on a platform put out to the general public, reach out to the authors to let them know. For it is the collective responsibility of scientists to make the science we do digestible by the general public.

IPRN talk: What lies beneath the ice? - Role of Geologists in Antarctic Sciences

IPRN talk March 2017Indian Polar Research Network (IPRN) (APECS India) in collaboration with Department of Geology, University of Delhi organised a talk titled “What lies beneath the ice - Role of Geologists in Antarctic Sciences” on 24th March 2017 in Ram Lal Anand College, University of Delhi. This event was to mark the International Polar Week Spring 2017 celebration and followed this year’s theme of Polar week - People of the Poles: Human Use and Appreciation of Earth’s Polar Regions. The event was organised to introduce and popularize Antarctic sciences to the undergraduate geology students of Delhi University.

2 Prof. Pant explaining Why explore AntarcticaThe event commenced with an introduction of Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS) and its national committee Indian Polar Research Network (IPRN) to the audience. I explained the significant findings about the melting of Antarctic ice sheet and subsequent predictions of sea level rise emphasizing the role Antarctica plays in regulating the global climate and oceanographic system. Prof. Naresh Pant, who has been working in Antarctic Geosciences from last 30 years, briefed the audience about the recently identified research priorities for Antarctic Earth Sciences. The introductory session brought out the key reasons for conserving and exploring Antarctica to the audience and initiated a dialogue.

3 Mayuri explaining her research workThe third component of the talk was to highlight the fields and disciplines through which geologists contribute to Antarctic Sciences. This was described by Ms. Mayuri Pandey who is a research scholar at Department of geology, University of Delhi and also an IPRN member. She has recently submitted her PhD in Antarctic sciences and has been a part of 36th Indian Expedition to Antarctica. Her work includes provenance studies of the Wilkes Land through IODP (U1359) sediments, paleoclimate studies through clay minerals and interpreting sub ice geology through different methods. She aptly explained different areas of geology in polar sciences that are: Glaciology, Climatology, marine sediments study and interpreting sub ice geology through indirect methods like geophysics and remote sensing with a glimpse of her research work as well. Study of micro-meteorites found in marginal marine sediments was also explained by her.

I concluded the talk with details of Indian Antarctic programme and the procedure to participate in it through the student participation scheme of National Centre for Antarctic & Ocean Research (ESSO-NCAOR), an Earth System Science Organisation under the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) - Government of India. Career opportunities in polar geosciences and the various information portals like APECS Jobs portal were also highlighted for students interested in polar research. The talk was attended by about 80 students along with the faculties of the University of Delhi. The feedback by the young students was highly encouraging and we plan to organise similar kind of event regarding Arctic sciences as well.

Shape the future of polar geosciences: Promoting polar science among young minds

Pic 1 Devsamridhi introducing her research in Antarctica copyA panel discussion titled “Shape the future of Polar Geosciences” was organised by Indian Polar Research Network (APECS-India) in association with Department of Geology, University of Delhi on 28th January 2017 on the special occasion of Golden Jubilee Celebrations of the department. The event was held to introduce polar geosciences to the undergraduate students and enhance knowledge of the postgraduate students. This panel discussion aimed at creating awareness among the students regarding the career opportunities in polar geosciences, the priorities of the polar research and their significance in the contributions to humanity.

The panel was chaired by eminent polar geologist Dr. Anil Joshi along with, Dr. Siddharth Swaroop(Himalayan glaciologist) and Mr. H. C. Khanduri(Himalayan projects expert). Dr. Anil Joshi, now retired, served as the Deputy Director General of Polar Division, Geological Survey of India. He participated in the initial years of Indian Antarctic Expeditions in 80s and led geological research in Antarctica later. Dr. Siddharth Swaroop, a celebrated glaciologist, has retired as the Deputy Director General of Glaciology Division, Geological Survey of India after working extensively in Himalayan glaciers for decades. Mr. H. C. Khanduri is a greatly admired engineering geologist associated with colossal Himalayan projects like Tehri Dam project and has a comprehensive experience of about 30 years in geotechnical research in Indian region of Himalayas.

Pic 2 Dr. Anil Joshi sharing his experiences copyThe event was initiated with the introduction of APECS and IPRN by Prof. N. C. Pant followed by presentations by research scholars of the department who are working in the Polar Regions. I introduced Antarctica and Arctic to the audience with a glimpse into my research in Antarctica. Abul Aamir Khan, also an IPRN member, introduced Himalaya and its importance as the third pole and conferred a talk on his research at Gangotri glacier, Himalaya. This was followed by a talk by Debojyoti Basuroy who focused on the adventures and eccentricity of working in Polar Regions by sharing his lively experiences of working in high altitude Himalayas and his research study on the Sutlej river reorganisation.

A special session on Geosciences in Himalayas was organized with a view to promote Himalayas as a third Pole and to highlight the fragility of the Himalayan social-ecological system. The Hindu Kush-Himalayan region, known as the third pole, stores more snow and ice than anywhere else in the world outside the Polar Regions and forms a daunting global ecological buffer. The third pole region is sensitive to climate change and directly or indirectly affects millions of people (about one fifth of the world's population). The session highlighted some recent studies suggesting a greater vulnerability of the cryospheric environment to rapid warming and climate change. However, there are many unanswered questions and their potential implications which indeed, should be the priorities of the future research work focused in Himalayas.

Pic 3 copyThe panel discussion was attended by about 100 students along with the distinguished alumni and the faculty of the department. The panel discussion was followed by an open forum Polar Quiz for the students. This was the very first time when students of department of geology, Delhi University were introduced to polar geosciences at a broad platform. This event provided them an opportunity to hear and interact with renowned polar scientists as well as early career polar researchers and get to learn about their personal experiences of working in extreme and pristine polar conditions. The response of the students was overwhelming with requests to add few more topics in our next events. Students expressed their desire to know about ways to get involved in polar studies and participate in Indian expeditions to poles. They requested to emphasize more on the various interdisciplinary research programs in Polar Sciences. Overall, this event was highly appreciated by the audience and was a successful icebreaker activity to plan up future APECS's events in University of Delhi.

ICECAPS Workshop 2016: highlighting the role of communication for a successful science career

rsessionIndian Polar Research Network (APECS-India) collaborated with Wildlife Institute of India-ENVIS centre on Wildlife & Protected Areas to celebrate the Antarctica Day by hosting ICECAPS 2016 (Improving Communication Effectiveness and Capacity Addition in Polar Science), a science communication workshop for early career researchers and graduate students. The workshop was attended by about 50 masters and PhD students from biology, geology, and environmental science disciplines. The theme of the workshop was providing orientation to the young minds towards a successful career in Polar Science and to equip them with key communication skills. Sessions on Climate change and Protected Area network in Himalayas, Trans-boundary biodiversity conservation and Antarctic treaty system with a focus on Madrid protocol were conducted to utilize this platform for outreach activities. These sessions also underlined the challenges faced by biodiversity conservation efforts in the Polar Regions and the need for sustained scientific data collection and publishing in achieving these goals.

First day into the workshop, the participants were introduced to the importance of communication in the day to day life of a researcher. The participants were given tips on writing emails to a potential research supervisor or an adviser, creating professional resumes and developing networking skills during professional gatherings. Participants were also exposed to effective presentation skills that would help them in getting noticed in a science conference. Interactive hands-on sessions on identifying appropriate funding agency, grant writing process and the process of developing a research proposal were conducted. Lastly, the participants were introduced to the document preparation system Latex for creating large documents with basic hands-on practice.

Amit talks about Himalayan plants on thennature trail icecapsDay two of the workshop was initiated with a field session on the plants of the Himalayan foothill campus of Wildlife Institute of India. Participants were taken around the nature trail to learn about the adaptive features of the plants and were also brought in close encounter with migratory and resident species of the campus. Later, an exhaustive session on the open source software R was conducted to initiate them into the world of ecological analysis. This session familiarized participants with basic working and simple statistical analyses with R. In the end, students were taught the concepts of effective sampling design, choosing variables in a study, determining the sample sizes, and experimental vs. mensurative approach.

Sixty percent of the applicants of the workshop were M.Sc. students, 27.5 % were PhD students while the rest were early career researchers with less than 5 years to complete their PhDs. Around 60% of the students were already working in the Polar Regions and the rest intending to do so in their future career. The toughest job in this workshop, with students from different disciplines and academic backgrounds, was to invoke the interest of participants to communicate. We played Polar Bingo in the beginning of the workshop to break the ice between the students and generate an interest in the workshop topics. Our team of resource persons also interacted continuously with them between the sessions. Feedback from the participants was encouraging as almost 93% termed it “very useful” for their research career. Participants responded to include popular science writing in the future workshops while giving A-rating to sessions on R program, Grant writing and improving presentation skills.

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Academics, Research and Jobs in the North: Perspectives from Early-Career Scientists

Polar Week YukonFor International Polar Week in the Yukon Territory, APECS Canada collaborated with Skookum Jim Friendship Centre to host ‘Academics, Research and Jobs in the North: Perspectives from Early-Career Scientists’. We had a panel of four northern early-career researchers who spoke at two events, one at Yukon College and one at Skookum Jim Friendship Centre, to a broad audience of students, teachers and interested members of the public on what it is like to work in science-related careers in Canada’s North. Many interesting points and perspectives came up, so as one of the organizers and panellists I will try to share and write up highlights from the panel discussion.

First off, there is a wide variety in the kinds of science-related jobs one can pursue in the North. One of our panellists, Stefan Gronsdahl, is a consultant for a environmental consulting firm. He spends approximately 20% of his time in the field and 80% in the office. In the field he works at contaminated sites and conducts spill response including sampling, monitoring, and supervising contractors, and in the office he spends a lot of time wrangling with data in excel and writing reports. Another panellist, Frank Annau, does similar work but from a regulation, investigation and compliance perspective with the Yukon Government. Jocelyn Joe-Strack is a sole-proprieter contractor and her job is science-related but mostly involves talking to people and gathering perspectives on what the best option for the people of the Yukon is. Lastly, I am a graduate student and contract researcher and I spend the summers doing field work and the winters writing. In summary, science-related jobs in the Yukon vary in size of office (many small offices), amount of field vs. office time, amount of consultation on multi-stakeholder issues, and much more.

There are different education and job options to pursuing science jobs and we are very lucky in the Yukon to have the opportunities we do. Experiential Science 11, Yukon Youth Conservation Corps, STEP and Gradcorps jobs were all mentioned by the panellists who grew up in the Yukon. These are exceptional programs to obtain experience as a Yukon youth. The level of education required differs for jobs, for example a diploma or degree is good for consulting techs and biologists, whereas a masters or phd may be required for government or NGO research in some cases. An additional consideration during education is whether a professional designation is important for the job you would like (i.e. RPBio, RPAg, RPGeo). Your education can be tailored to help you obtain this if so.

The career sectors these education and early-career job opportunities can lead to include university research, the private sector especially environmental consulting, government and NGO’s. A key point is to network and ask lots of questions to the people in the jobs you are considering, to build perspectives and insights into those careers. It is also important to apply to jobs even if they seem out of reach, and to work diligently to customize your application to the job and sector you are applying for. For example, in the private sector it is important to have a short 1-2 page punchy cv, whereas in government it is more important to hit all the points on the job description in your cv so lengthier is ok.

A main point regarding the application process in all sectors is to go in person to meet your potential employer and express interest and positive energy. Being persistent and not waiting for a job advertisement to come out, instead introducing yourself, making calls and visiting with your resumé in hand is how opportunities and positions have come about. An alternative way of viewing science-related jobs is to create your own. If you see a need or a niche where your skills and expertise could be utilized, there are opportunities to create your own employment by filling these needs. For academics, it is important to find a lab and a supervisor that you will work well with. This involves looking at their lab web pages and looking for evidence that there will be mentorship and support within that community, for example friendly group or field work photos. Other important research includes asking former or current students about their experience, verifying if the type of research aligns with your interests, and considering whether the place (or places) where you’d be living/researching are where you would like to live for a few years.

If you are interested in a particular subject or issue, there is space to specialize, whether it means pursuing a company that specializes in your interest, or courting a particular branch of government, or creating your own research program. As we build our scientific capacity, with both locals and newcomers, the North is a dynamic and rewarding place to pursue science-related careers.

Meagan Grabowski is a Yukoner and northern research, MSc Student with the UBC Department of Zoology, Jane Glassco Northern Fellow (2015-17), and APECS Canada Board Member.

Introducing the UKPN Social Science blog!

The UK Polar Network has a new blog which will feature essays and articles from the UK branch of APECS. For its inaugural post, Mika Laiho discusses 'Polar Social Science' and implications for the broader research community.


Mika Laiho is a former postgraduate student at the European Institute (LSE) and Arctic Centre (University of Lapland). Now political geography researcher at Durham University, Mika's ambition is to critique EU governance through a post-structural deconstruction of carbon (extraction and combustion) geographies of Arctic space. In his free time he acts as an advocate of Polar Social Science through UKPN and APECS (which are both organisations created and run voluntarily by early career scientists from around the world).

On travelling to the Earth’s largest ice sheet to look for its tiniest creatures

In addition to highlighting outreach efforts by polar researchers, this blog is also a place to highlight polar research projects by APECS members; written in a way that is compelling and accessible for a broad audience. Below is our first entry of this type, written by Trista Vick-Majors of Montana State University.

 

"Water, water everywhere. Nor any drop to drink." – The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

This classical description of the ocean could also be applied to Antarctica. If you were standing on the vast white Antarctic ice sheet, you would be surrounded by water. In fact, frozen water would likely be all that you could see, unless you were lucky enough to glimpse the tips of the Transantarctic Mountains, which divide Antarctica into East and West. Seventy percent of Earth's fresh water is stored, frozen, in Antarctica's ice sheets. What you could not see, however, would be the estimated 100 cubic kilometers (tens of trillions of gallons) of liquid water that are locked beneath Antarctica's ice, between it and the land of the Antarctic continent. The discovery of this water is relatively new. The first tantalizing verifiable hint of its existence, its scale and its potential role as a habitat, came with the final confirmation of the existence of Subglacial Lake Vostok in 1993. Vostok is the 16th largest lake on earth by area, and up to 1000 meters deep. During the following 20 years, nearly 400 other subglacial lakes were discovered under the Antarctic ice sheet.

The idea that liquid water existed beneath the ice was a major expansion in our understanding of the scale of Antarctic habitats. Before the discovery of the lakes, the interior of the continent was thought to be mostly inhospitable to life, save a few intrepid microbes making a living in the snow, or perhaps inside of the rocks where mountain ranges peeked out above the top of the ice sheet. Most of the action was in the Southern Ocean, which surrounds the continent, and in the lakes and streams of the handful of ice-free oases that dot its coast. Looking for life in a lake under the ice sheet (which can be up to ~4000 meters thick) was a step beyond looking for it in ice-covered lakes of the oases, where at only a few meters thick, the ice was thin enough for sunlight to penetrate to fuel the lakes' ecosystems.

As a student working on my M.Sc., I traveled to one of those ice-free oases, the McMurdo Dry Valleys, three times to study how heterotrophic bacteria, who depend on organic carbon produced by other organisms as food, responded to the setting of the sun. Sunset happens only once a year in the Antarctic, as the sun falls below the horizon in the fall, and rises again in the spring. The winter is total darkness. Without sunlight, phytoplankton (the plants of the McMurdo Dry Valley lakes) can't photosynthesize. I found that without them, the heterotrophs that depend on the phytoplankton as primary producers of carbon (food) essentially go on a winter diet. They shift their metabolisms from the active growth of summer, to maintenance mode until the sun rises. I wondered if there were heterotrophs in subglacial lakes that, in permanent darkness, lived in an almost permanent maintenance state.

In 2012, I got my chance to test that hypothesis. Now a Ph.D student, I am writing my dissertation on Subglacial Lake Whilllans (SLW). SLW is a small subglacial lake in West Antarctica, near the coast. It lies under about 800 meters of ice, is about two meters deep, and covers about 60 square kilometers. It is also part of a continuum of what are known as "active" subglacial lakes. Approximately once per decade, SLW drains downstream into the Southern Ocean. Neighboring lakes upstream drain into SLW, refilling it, and the cycle continues. Knowing that these systems impact the ocean, it is important to understand what exactly spills out of them when these lakes drain – nutrients? Microbes?

VM tents

Tents at Subglacial Lake Whillans (Photo: Trista Vick-Majors).

 

Before 2012, no one had ever retrieved a water sample from a subglacial lake. Doing so is not simple; it requires an array of techniques aimed at protecting these pristine environments from contamination. The team that I am part of enlisted the help of a hot water drilling team, who used a massive hot water drill to melt a hole through the 800 meters of ice above SLW. The drill used pressurized hot water instead of a drill bit and was equipped with filtration systems to remove microorganisms and particles from the drill water and with UV lights to damage or kill any that remained. It worked – we were able to retrieve clean samples from the lake! We camped out on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and had 96 hours to take samples from the lake and run experiments to look for and learn about the microbial life in SLW. Getting there wasn't easy, but more about that in my podcast.

VM collection

Trista collecting snow to cool incubations at Subglacial Lake Whillans (Photo: JT Thomas).

 

As a microbiologist and an ecologist, I wanted to know not only how the microorganisms that we found in SLW survived there, but also what their survival meant for the ecosystem. To answer those questions, I incubated samples of lake water with radioactively-labeled food sources (nucleotides and amino acids). By comparing the rates at which the microorganisms incorporated nucleotides (into DNA) and amino acids (into proteins), I could start to understand how they survived: were they thriving, or just maintaining like the Dry Valley lake heterotrophs during the winter? If they were thriving, they should be making about as much DNA as protein, because DNA production in a microorganism usually happens when a cell is going to divide. If lots of cells are dividing, then the population is growing. But, if the microorganisms are just in maintenance mode, they should be making more protein than DNA – not focused on growing their population, but rather just making enough cellular machinery to get by during tough times.

It turned out that the microorganisms in SLW incorporated about three times as much of the radioactively labeled substrate into protein as into DNA, which implies that they were actually doing at least as well as the microorganisms in the Dry Valley lakes and as those in the Southern Ocean, in spite of the fact that they are growing very slowly. Beneath 800 meters of ice, at half a degree below zero Celsius, not only was there life in SLW, but it was growing, not just surviving.

VLPC1C 12highres

A scanning electron microscope of a microbial scale from Subglacial Lake Whillans (round, center) next to a sediment particle (Image by Trista Vick-Majors at the Montana State University ICAL facility). 

 

Maybe the next stop will be to travel not to the largest mass of ice on Earth, but to a large mass of ice on one of Jupiter's moons to find the tiniest creatures beneath its frozen seas.

 

Trista Vick-Majors is a Ph.D candidate in Microbial Ecology at Montana State University. She has spent five field seasons in the Antarctic, studying microbes in lakes and the ocean beneath ice shelves and trying to understand their survival strategies and contributions to the carbon and nitrogen cycles.

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