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A stroll over a ridge and then several hours* walking over snow, shuffling over a slippery frozen lake, and clambering through loose rock and debris brought us to Changri Nup base camp, at 5358 m (17,580 ft).

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Changri Nup base camp.  The two big mountains in the background are Everest (Chomolungma) and Nuptse on the left and right, respectively.

* The porters and Pyramid staff do it in 2.5 hours. From personal experience, I can report that with a blood oxygen level of <=57%, it takes more like 4.5 hours. It’s only a few kilometers, but the loose, rocky terrain makes it slow going. There are cairns marking the generally advised direction, but there is nothing resembling a trail for most of the way.

First I’m going to describe the science we did there and then mention some of the details about field logistics.

~SCIENCE~

The field team was comprised of 10 project scientists and one Pyramid science tech; it was originally supposed to be 11, but ICIMOD glaciologist Dr. Joe Shea did not come due to a last-minute denial of a UAV permit. In addition to Mike, Josh, and me, the fieldteam was comprised of 2 Nepal-based researchers (ICIMOD and NAST), 2 France-based researchers, a French meteorological station specialist, a French PhD Student, and a Nepali MS student. Our collective aims included monitoring weather, tracking speed and lowering of the glacier, quantifying melt, and understanding the physical properties of the debris.

The last item is where my work fits in: I’m interested in using satellite imagery to discern debris thickness from temperature, making sure that the derived thickness is correct by comparing it to field measurements, and also modeling how the debris layer transfers heat to the ice surface. Towards these aims, my fieldwork on Changri Nup had three components.

1. Satellite: Last summer, I applied for a NASA-operated satellite to take pictures of Changri Nup while we were in the field. In order to make sure I apply the appropriate offset (if any) to temperature data from space, I needed to measure actual temperatures during the two satellite flyovers. I did this with 20 temperature sensors as well as images with a thermal camera.

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A temperature sensor, with a pen for scale. We put half in direct sunlight and half shaded so that we could also determine whether the temperatures were affected by the sun heating up the sensors’ containers. The actual sensors are inside the black moisture-sealed capsule and look like this.  These are the sensors Josh and I programmed while at the Pyramid Research Station, two days before the first satellite flyover.

2. Debris properties: I work on calculating glacier melt from energy models, which require all of the energy inputs (and outputs) for the glacier system. Some, like energy from sunlight or precipitation, are easy and directly measurable. The hardest one to calculate accurately is the heat that is transferred through this debris layer by conduction.  Measuring how the temperature and humidity changes with depth and with time will help us understand how to model this well.

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The temperature and humidity sensors on a bamboo stake before burial.  The cross bars are to keep the bamboo vertical (hopefully) for the next year.

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Buried in 1 m of debris, after a day of digging, with a trekking pole for scale.

3. Finally, I wanted to measure debris thickness in the field so that we understand the satellite images better – and because I wanted to see if a relatively underutilized method (ground penetrating radar, GPR) could be useful for studying debris covered glaciers. Getting the amount of GPR data I had hoped for proved to be difficult; from distant aerial photographs, I was not prepared for the size of the debris, the roughness of the terrain, and the juxtaposition of fine debris, car-sized boulders, and deep glacial lakes.

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MS student Sonam for scale, with debris cover where we placed the 1-meter profile of temperature and humidity sensors.

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Debris cover in the center of the glacier, with Josh for scale.

The terrain was difficult to walk on—not to mention operating and dragging geophysical equipment over! Still, we did manage to find two flat spots: one close to the top of the debris-covered area (high on the glacier, at > 18,000 ft) and one closer to camp, on the side of the glacier. We performed comprehensive surveys on each:

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Josh marking the length of a transect for GPR.

I’m excited to analyze this data to see if the method worked, even if we were unable to drag the sled (er, rather, baby baths) all the way across and down the glacier.

~LOGISTICS~

Since I’m often asked questions about field logistics, I figured I’d provide a few details here:

How did the gear arrive?

A lot of it was carried by these guys:

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(I can’t remember the yaks’ names, sadly).

and the remaining parts were carried directly by porters, who strap loads together and carry the weight on their heads and backs. Seeing porters on the trail was a constant reminder that my 40-lb pack was NOT heavy. The Khumbu valley hosts a permanent population in several villages, as well as a booming tourist industry. But everything—from restaurant food to safe drinking water, building materials to outdoor shop gear—has to be carried by people or yaks.  Donkeys are used at lower elevations, too. On my way down, I met a man much shorter than myself carrying 4 doors on his back…and he was a 3-day walk from the start of the tail.

What did we eat?

In camp, we were supported by porters, including a cook. At 6:45 every morning, porters brought us black tea in our tents to wake us up (I have never experienced this in fieldwork before!) Breakfast was served at 7 am sharp; we had rice pudding, cinnabuns, pancakes, or chapatti bread, usually with 1 scrambled or hard-boiled egg per person. We would leave camp for the glacier (30 min walk) by 8 am at the latest, taking our packed lunches of fresh-baked Nepali bread, crackers, nak cheese, mango juice (really half-frozen slush), and Snickers or Twix.

How cold was it?

When the sun was shining, it was pretty warm, around freezing and, unless the wind was blowing, quite comfortable. But when the sun went down, it got cold. Nighttime was around -20C. This was the first time for me in 3.5 years that I’d seen the sun set during fieldwork or had to think about the fact that daytime and nighttime temperatures could differ dramatically. (Thankfully, I remembered to pack a headlamp!) I didn’t realize what a luxury it was to have 24 hour sunlight, both in terms of safety and in terms of science, in Greenland and Antarctica. Because the mountains are so steep and because we were working in winter to avoid the monsoon, we stopped receiving direct sunlight around 3 pm. At 4:30 it was really cold, and by 5:30 it was completely dark. Most of the team would return to camp around 5 and huddle in the kitchen tent over black tea and cookies until dinner at 6:30. Dinner was always prawn crackers and soup appetizers followed by something Nepali or Italian: the traditional dal bhat, pasta (usually with nak cheese), or pizza for the main with the occasional side of “salad” (peas or cauliflower in a cream sauce). Dinner on thanksgiving consisted of popcorn, onion soup, pasta, and cauliflower.  Dinner on the last night was particularly special; the porters hiked a 10-hour round trip to buy fresh yak meat and make us yak curry and dal bhat!

What makes up the base camp?

We slept two to a tent for warmth; camp was comprised of personal tents, a cooktent, a dining tent, and a toilet tent. I was quite grateful for the porters who had most of this set up when we arrived! Being equatorward of the Arctic/Antarctic circles meant shorter work days and cold nights…AND some of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen. Every day we’d walk back to basecamp with a backdrop of the sun setting behind Mt. Everest and Mt. Nuptse. And, no, I’m not sure I was ever really able to comprehend the scale or beauty of these mountains, although I was constantly feeling fortunate for the opportunity to work in them on what I believe is going to prove to be exciting and important work.

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Sunset with cook tent, Everest, and Nuptse.

Thanks for your interest; please feel free to send questions if you have any!

Dhanybhad,

Ali

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Trekking to Science

A special thanks to Julia Bradley-Cook for posting the pictures and short text I was able to send via iPhone WiFi while on the trek to Pyramid Research Station and the Changri Nup Glacier! Of course, while at our remote field site, I had no access to internet, so the science update on the blog is a bit delayed!

To pick up where I left off, after Pheriche I spent one afternoon and night at Pyramid Research Station. Pyramid is owned and operated by the Italian research project EV-K2-CNR.

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The Pyramid Research Station viewed from the ridge above.

The research station is maintained year-round and hosts labs, several atmospheric/meteorological monitors, a seismic station, and other scientific facilities.  It also provides invaluable support for fieldwork on Changri Nup.  In addition to hosting our research group, the Pyramid staff monitor the instruments deployed on Changri Nup year round.  Additionally, one of the science techs accompanies our research group to the field.

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Me outside the atmospheric research laboratory at Pyramid.  Note the elevation!  

Inside this building are several instruments, including some for analyzing black carbon, dust, and particulate matter.  Right outside this building is a meteorological station, and it’s also where the Pyramid Staff collects air samples.  (See the following three pictures, in order.)

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Instruments for analyzing atmospheric particulate matter.

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The met station at Pyramid.  I will likely be using some of the data collected here in my energy modeling for nearby Changri Nup glacier.

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Sonam, a Pyramid science tech, taking an air sample.

Pyramid has lodging for ~20 scientists and, much to our delight after trekking for 5 days, solar-heated water for showers and a cook!

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We certainly had our share of Italian food, with a Nepali twist: all of the cheese was nak cheese (a nak is a female yak). Here, Mike with his nak cheese pizza.

The Pyramid staff includes an Italian director as well as a rotating Nepali staff of about 7: the station manager, science techs, and support staff.  The afternoon at Pyramid was very busy.  We met up with our porters and saw our scientific instruments for the first time since Kathmandu.  Josh and I were busy programming the temperature sensors as well as charging batteries for the ToughBook computer and ground penetrating radar control unit.  We also had to acquire and prepare two bamboo stakes for holding 17 sensors which will record temperature and humidity at various depths in the debris over the next year.

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Pema, the Pyramid manager, and Mike are inserting small wires into the holes that we drilled for attaching the temperature and humidity sensors.  We had to paint the bamboo white so that it will absorb as little additional heat as possible and not affect the data.

I actually got (had) to spend a little more time at Pyramid than some of the other group members. I went to Changri Nup Base Camp with the rest of the team, but my Hanover-accustomed blood couldn’t quite adjust in only 5 days to being at 16,500 ft. After the first day, when I did deploy my surface temperature sensors in time for the satellite data acquisition granted by NASA, I had to hike down with two porters and spend time at Pyramid getting oxygen and waiting for my blood oxygen levels to reach an acceptable level. But I ascended back to Changri Nup after only a few days and had a week of exciting fieldwork deploying more temperature and humidity sensors, measuring debris thickness with radar, and experiencing first hand what it’s like to walk around on a debris-covered glacier.

Check back in a few days for more details on the Changri Nup fieldwork!

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A preview of fieldwork: Josh walking over the debris cover on Changri Nup.

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Namaste! I am writing from Kathmandu, Nepal, where I am preparing for my field season on Changri Nup glacier in the Khumbu Region. I arrived on Monday and have had a busy week so far. I will try to summarize it and share details on (A) meeting collaborators, (B) preparing instruments for the field, and (C) seeing a few of the sights here in the city.

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Welcome sign at the airport.

To put all of this in context, I think I need to start with a bit of science and explain why I’m here in the first place. The high mountains of Asia contain more snow and ice than any area outside the Arctic and Antarctic, earning them the distinction of being called the world’s “Third Pole.” Glaciers comprise an active part of the water system, contributing melt to 10 major Asian river systems that supply 20% of the world’s population. For a variety of reasons including political instability, remoteness, and extreme terrain, few comprehensive or long-term studies have been conducted on the region’s ice. Consequently, large unknowns about glaciers, as well as the amount and timing of their river contributions, remain. This is a problem because many, many people depend on the water in this region.

Complicating matters, some regions of High Mountain Asia contain a large proportion of “debris-covered glaciers,” glaciers that are covered in rocks. The debris at their surface affects when and by how much they’re melting. Thin debris darkens the surface of the ice and snow and makes it melt faster than it would otherwise. But very thick debris acts like a blanket and keeps the ice and snow from melting as quickly. Thus, in addition to having the energy fluxes typical at a glacier surface (for example, the shortwave radiation from the sun), it is also necessary to contend with the conductive heat flux through the debris.

I’m interested in finding out how much debris-covered glaciers are melting and how we can model them effectively. We can’t apply the same models that we apply to clean glaciers since the debris has a significant impact on the energy balance. To calibrate the energy/melt model and also validate some of its results, we need data from the field. Starting on Saturday, I will join 11 others for a field season at Changri Nup glacier near Mt. Everest.

(A) CAST OF CHARACTERS
Prof. Mike Dorais and Josh Maurer, a masters student, are the other Americans on the research expedition and are both based at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Josh is writing his thesis contrasting trends in debris-covered and clean glaciers from satellite imagery and is advised by my external committee member, Prof. Summer Rupper. Mike is a professor of igneous petrology with tons of high-altitude experience. The three of us are the only Americans on the expedition; we’re joining up with 2 Nepali scientists, 1 researcher from Canada, and 6 from France.

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Prof. Mike Dorais of BYU and I checking out Patan Durbar Square after our arrival on Monday (photo cred: Josh Maurer).

I met Mike and Josh both briefly before departing for Asia, but we met the other field team members on Wednesday. Dr. Patrick Wagnon, leading the entire expedition, invited us to his home, where we packed all scientific gear, reviewed our itinerary, and got to know one another over a tri-lingual dinner.

(B) INSTRUMENT PREP
Each sub-team has a specific aim, although they all complement one another. I am interested in developing a more accurate way to model the energy balance at the surface of debris-covered glaciers and hope to do that through expanding our knowledge of debris thickness and debris properties. In the field, we’ll be collecting surface temperature readings to compare with ones recorded by a satellite that NASA has kindly agreed to have take pictures of Changri Nup while we’re there. We will also be measuring the thickness of the debris cover via the physically-strenuous methods of digging holes and hauling ground penetrating radar (GPR) antennas across the debris. And, finally, we’ll be deploying temperature and humidity sensors in the debris to make measurements every 30 minutes until I (hopefully) come back to collect them in a year.

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Mike and Josh testing and packing science equipment in our hotel.

The temperature and humidity instrument prep was relatively smooth; we had to ensure that all of the iButtons could be programmed using our software and that we had appropriate points on our GPS. But the GPR prep proved a little more difficult. In order to run the GPR in the mode we want to, we need to drag it on something flat. It’s common to drag the GPR antenna in a sled weighted by rocks, which keep it in contact with the surface. A $3 sled from WalMart seems like an absurd thing to check on an airplane, right? Especially since we had 5 days of prep in a major city where we could easily find a sled?

Wrong. There are no sleds in Kathmandu. If this is as perplexing to you as it was to me, consider this: it doesn’t really snow in the city. Furthermore, sleds are not used to haul gear in the mountains as they are in many other ranges because the mountains are just way too steep. After visiting countless gear shops in Thamel asking for “a plastic box to pull on snow,” we decided to follow a suggestion to visit Bhat-Bhateni, even though we didn’t know what it was.

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Thamel

A 20-minute cab ride, drastically increased heart rates, and 300 rupees later, we found ourselves at a Nepali department store. After inspecting every plastic suitcase for how easily it could be split in half and turned into two sleds, we went to the second floor and found plastic containers! Some were large enough to hold the 400 MHz and 900 MHz GPR antennas and had the smooth bottoms and curved fronts that we were looking for.

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The closest thing to a snow sled in Kathmandu, Nepal? Baby baths. When we met up with the French group, we learned that they had completed ice GPR several years ago dragging a baby bath, as well!

The rest of the GPR prep went well; despite being inspected by China Southern Airlines in Guangzhou or Kathmandu, everything still works! And, as I write, it’s on its way up to the field camp with our sherpas.

[C] BEING TOURISTS
The pictures can do this section better justice than words. In between work, we have made it out to see Patan Durbar Square, Swayambhunath, and Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square.  We also plan to check out Boudhanath before we head to the mountains.

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Patan Durbar Square, the royal square of Lalitpur’s Malla Kings.

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Swayambhunath, known colloquially as “Monkey Temple,” is a Buddhist pilgrimage site and the site of a stupa, a monastery, and several temples (and a great view). There are monkeys everywhere; note the small one swinging down the rope on the stupa!

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Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square, a square with the buildings of medieval royalty.

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My friend Kate Voss from the AMS Policy Colloquium is passing through Kathmandu after finishing up her season’s fieldwork on hydrology, land classification, and water management, so she showed me her favorite spot for open momos!

WHAT’S NEXT
On Saturday, we will fly to Lukla and begin the trek from the Lukla airport up to Pyramid Research station. En route, we will stay in Pharping, Namche, Tengboche, and Pheriche. By the 21st, the hope is that the group is acclimated well enough to commence 10 days of fieldwork at Changri Nup (17,500 ft). Following that, a small group of us will continue on to the second field site at Mera Glacier and then return via Lukla in mid-December.

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A quick re-blog about a paper published on my research on damselflies. (Yes, I do study things other than Arctic mosquitoes.)

Entomology Today

Previous studies have shown that warming temperatures make insects eat more and grow faster. In fact, scientists often measure the effects of temperature on insect growth to predict how climate change will affect their distribution and abundance.

However, a new study from Dartmouth College indicates that other factors — in this case, fear — play a role as well, and some can actually decrease the rate of growth.

“In other words, it’s less about temperature and more about the overall environmental conditions that shape the growth, survival, and distribution of insects,” said Lauren Culler, lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Oecologia.

Culler and her colleagues looked at how fear, which typically lowers food consumption and growth rate, affects an insect’s response to warming temperatures. They brought damselfly nymphs into the lab and measured how much they ate and grew at different temperatures, and how…

View original post 150 more words

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I stood at the edge of the river in awe. The river had swallowed half of my study site, leaving niviarsiaq flowers and my temperature sensor poking through ice-cold rapids.

There must have been a spectacular glacier calving event to cause the river to violently spill over its banks [Edit: The hypothesis around the station is that an ice dam broke.] Waterfalls almost doubled in width, the river found new courses to handle the large volume of water, and chunks of ice were carried downstream.

I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures. This is crazy cool,  I thought, but what about my research?!

Study Site #1

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DURING FLOOD: My study site is on the left. It didn’t used to be an island…the water in the foreground wasn’t there the day before.

We returned the next day to survey the aftermath. Things looked like they were almost back to normal.

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AFTER: The site is almost back to normal. See Becca standing on the rocks? The water would have been over her head!

The niviarsiaq flowers were extremely resilient.

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AFTER: These flowers were covered with two meters of rushing water the day before. Two days later, the flowers were producing pollen and buds were opening, like nothing happened.

Study Site #2

The day the river went rogue, we had to hike to our study site at seahorse lake because the road was flooded.

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DURING: The road to the seahorse lake study site was flooded – we continued on foot.

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DURING: The flooded landscape produced some great scenery.

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DURING: Looking out from our study site the day of the flood.

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AFTER: The beach and the boulders reappeared the next day.

Study Site #3

We visited a third site the day after the flood. Signs of the surge were abundant.

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The water etched ripples into the sand and left behind ice at a third study site.

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Ice deposited near our third study site.

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The grounded ice chunks were hefty.

Had I not been there the day the river went rogue, I would not be able to grasp the extent and power of the flood.  Fortunately, niviarsiaq, aka dwarf river beauty,  is  presumably adapted to such disturbances despite its delicate appearance. So, my research continues, and I am left with a much deeper respect for the ice-fed river.

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I spent June 12 – 15 in Microsoft’s appropriately-named NERD Center near MIT in Cambridge, MA. In its third iteration (but only second national one), ComSciCon trains 50 graduate students selected by application to be better communicators of their science. This workshop is unique in that it is put on by graduate students for graduate students; the workshop was directly tuned to the needs and interests of graduate students and was organized flawlessly and enthusiastically. We participated in speaking exercises, interacted with panel speakers invited to speak on various topics, and received expert feedback on science writing for submission to a non-academic publication.

 

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Introduction to giving constructive feedback to each other’s ~800 word writing submissions.

I could probably write separate entries on each of the 5 panels, the 2-hour improve session, the peer editing process followed by feedback from science writing professionals, and the day-long workshop with local K-12 science teachers. But I’ll restrict myself to a few of the speakers, concepts, and activities I found particularly valuable. Interested readers can find the whole program with speaker bios here

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Improving Diversity Through Communication Panel: L-R Dr. Monica Feliu-Mojer (Mgr. of Outreach Programs for Biostatistics Dept, U Washington); Dr. Renee Hlozek (astronomer and TED fellow); ComSciCon moderator; Dr. John Johnson (Harvard Astronomy Professor, diversity advocate); Dr. Brindha Muniappan (Director of Education and Public Programs at the MIT museum).

The Keynote Speaker, Dr. Bassam Shakhashiri, is a chemistry professor at UW Madison who has been a staunch proponent of science education; he personally gives chemistry demonstrations in settings ranging from school classrooms to shopping malls. In the 1980s, he served as Assistant Director for Science and Engineering Education at the National Science Foundation, and more recently he has served as President of the American Chemical Society (ACS, 2012), formed the ACS Presidential Commission on Grad Education in the Chemical Sciences, the ACS Climate Science Working Group, and the ACS Global Water Initiative Working Group. He generously attended the entire workshop, participating in discussions and exercises with the graduate students; at the workshop conclusion he gave his address, challenging all of us to think about our role as scientists in society.

In his lecture, “Enlightenment and Responsibilities of the Enlightened,” Dr. Shakhashiri called us to become citizen-scientists, using the freedom we have to pursue our scientific curiosity to fulfill our responsibility to the earth and to humanity. He pointed out that the gap between the science-rich sector and the science-poor sectors of society is widening and that we don’t need to impart scientific competence and expertise upon everyone but rather engender science literacy and a sense of appreciation for science. Although the social, political, and economic implications of a changing climate and changing cryosphere motivated my return to school, I spend too little time thinking about scientists’ responsibility to serve society. I found his talk thought-provoking, boundary-pushing, and inspirational.

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Keynote speaker Dr. Shakhashiri closed his talk with a demonstration he often gives to school groups and public audiences.

Another speaker who challenged my basic conception of science communication was Jennifer Briselli, who studies the failures and difficulties in science communication. Communication with scientific facts alone is often ineffective because a person’s values and cultural worldview influence how receptive they are. She looks at science communication from the lens of the non-scientific audience member rather than from the perspective of the scientist; she provided valuable insight into the roadblocks associated with communication and how to address them.

Other speakers who stand out were: Dr. Ana Unruh Cohen, Director of Energy, Climate and Natural Resources for Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA); Soren Wheeler, Senior Producer at Radiolab; Dr. Donna J. Nelsen, organic chemistry professor at U Oklahoma and science adviser for TV hit series Breaking Bad; and Jeff Lieberman, who provided an artist’s perspective through sharing his work relating science, art, consciousness, and the human experience. Seldom do we hear people talk about emotion as a tool for communicating science, but he does so with astounding brilliance.

ComSciCon isn’t just about how to communicate with different audiences, it is also about practicing! Each participant had to give a 1-minute “pop-talk” about his or her work without using any scientific terms. The audience held up “JARGON” or “AWESOME” cards throughout the pop-talks to let the speaker know how well he/she was achieving this. There was no option to extend past the 1-minute (a loud noise went off), and doing justice to a dissertation topic in just one minute required some practice.

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Pinar Gurel, PhD Candidate in Dartmouth’s Microbial and Cellular Biology program, and I holding up the signs for the pop-talks.

I found it stimulating to be around 49 other PhD students who were genuinely excited about pursuing research across a wider range of topics than could be found at any other conference: soil microbes to planetary formation, pancreatic cancer to lizard reproduction, and nose stem cells to napping.

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Dr. Todd Zakrajsek, executive director at the Academy of Educators, UNC-Chapel Hill, giving the Keynote address of Sunday’s session on K-12 STEM education.  On this last day of the workshop, graduate students, teachers, and education professionals participated in a series of lectures, discussions, and curriculum development exercises.

I left Cambridge with better scientific writing and speaking skills, a network of colleagues across scientific disciplines who are all highly motivated and deeply committed to sharing their work, and a deeper conviction about why communicating science well is not only important but absolutely necessary. 

“Is it enough for a scientist simply to publish a paper? Isn’t it the responsibility of scientists, if you believe that you have found something that can affect the environment, isn’ it you responsibility to actually do something about it, enough so that action actually takes place? … If not us, who? If not now, when?” – F. Sherwood Rowland

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Ten days in Washington

In its 14th year, the American Meteorological Society’s Summer Policy Colloquium boasts an impressive curriculum (last year’s is here), arguably the most comprehensive introduction to U.S. politics, the relevance of science and policy to each other, and the legislative process that is possible in 10 days. 

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Participants of the AMS Summer Policy Colloquium (SPC) in front of the Capitol Building.

The first two days of the program focused on policy fundamentals; each day we had morning lectures on the basics of U.S. politics and policy, the inner-workings of the congressional and executive branches, and the details of the U.S. budget and scientific funding.  Notable among our list of speakers was Judy Schneider, who conducts orientation for all of the new members of Congress when they arrive in Washington.  Her cold-calling approach was intimidating for most of the members of our cohort; few of the grad students and scientists had much (if any) knowledge of the rules of procedure for the House and Senate!  However, it was the perfect introduction to Washington, and when we met with representatives from the Senate Finance Committee and the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, we knew the difference between committees and subcommittees, how their heads are determined, and how members’ offices and staffing typically work. 

The third day was focused on international policy.  As international development and multinational scientific collaborations are areas of personal interest and career goals, I found this day particularly exciting.  We heard from Dr. Tegan Blaine, the Senior Climate Change Adviser for Africa at the US Agency for International Development, first.  She shared that three departments oversee international development with respect to climate change adaptation: State, Treasury, and USAID, although other offices like USDA help with projects.  The State Department’s efforts are focused on international partnerships around specific development initiatives such as clean energy, whereas the treasury funds projects such as REDD (Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation).  USAID’s mission is distinguished in its incorporation of science and decision analysis and its focus on bilateral relationships.  In her position as a specialist for Africa, she has to make funding allocations and prioritize various projects based on impact vs. need considerations, the United States’ international agenda, the host country’s priorities, and in-country capacity.  Often she faces the question of where the investment (which is on a 3-5 year timeframe) will have the most lasting impact and where program implementation is most likely to be successful. 

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Lecture.

Following Dr. Blaine, we were addressed by Dr. Jonathan Pershing, the Principal Director of EPSA and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Climate Change Policy and Technology in International Affairs at the Department of Energy (what a title!).  He spoke of his involvement with the Montreal ratification profess and the IPCC, as well as the U.S.’ role in the Copenhagen Accord.  I found it refreshing to hear his optimism regarding follow-up to the Copenhagen Accord, which is a non-binding document of carbon emissions reductions produced through Obama’s leadership at the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference.  But what I found most thought-provoking were his distinctions between the ways that scientists and politicians think, distinctions of which I must be acutely aware if I end up pursing a career in Washington.  He said that science, at its most fundamental level, is about what we don’t know.  Policy takes what we do know and turns it into action.  Scientists are focused on the best solution, whereas the best available solution is necessarily used in policy decisions.  He also shared his thoughts on pursuing a career as a government scientist, sharing the perspective that scientists who generate good ideas alone make great professors and that those who come up with good ideas by working with 1,000 other people can be effective players in policy.  Our final international speaker was Dr. Norman Neureiter, the Director of the Center for Science, Technology, and Security Policy and Center for Science Diplomacy of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (turns out few of our speakers’ titles were short).  He spoke passionately about science as something countries can agree on even when they agree on just about nothing else.  He highlighted the US-Russia collaboration on space, the 2001 US-Iran science collaboration on foodborne disease and air pollution, and the recent collaboration with North Korea on reforestation.  Science, he argued, is transboundary in nature and is easier to communicate than politics.  We also had an extended, dinnertime lecture delivered by Dr. Andrew light, a George Mason professor.  He spoke of his role as Senior Adviser to the Special Enjoy on Climate Change at the State Department and provided an insider’s view and optimism about the U.N. climate negotiations.  I had not thought so critically about science as a tool for international diplomacy prior to these lecture, although I left feeling energized about a potential career as a scientist in international relations and development.

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Group work.

The rest of the colloquium was filled with similarly compelling speakers and engaging exercises.  (Gifford’s forthcoming entry will focus on our exercise in passing climate legislation.)  Science communication instructors from the American Geophysical Union joined us on Thursday June 5 for exercises (storytelling, improv, bringing an “ask” to a congressional staffer, communicating with journalists, etc.)  We also engaged in discussion with invited speakers on connecting with a public audience in general and to journalists and policy-makers in particular.  On subsequent days, we focused on science opportunities in the military (I was not previously aware these existed), the leadership and funding of the National Science Foundation and its pertinent divisions, and the role and image of the National Hurricane Center.  We also heard climate perspectives from the Senior Adviser for Infrastructure Resilience (Department of Housing and Urban Development) and a representative from the American Red Cross.  A case study on water supply and scarcity illuminated the necessity of but systemic difficulties associated with collaboration between the US Army Corps of Engineers, NOAA, and the USGS.

The productive week culminated on an extremely high note, with four program alums speaking about their work.  The closing speaker of the program, Dr. Ahsha Tribble, is a meteorologist who directly advised the President and his senior staff during hurricanes Sandy and Irene, among other disasters.  She was an engaging and inspirational speaker who talked about the importance of taking opportunities when they arise, being open to learning something new, and not confining one’s self to pre-existing career paths. 

In short, it was an illuminating and formative 10 days in which we had the privilege of interacting with accomplished and driven program participants, compelling speakers, and guests who have used their PhDs in the sciences to advance onto highly successful and impactful careers in policy. I left feeling grateful for the opportunity and feeling a little more certain that I’ll be moving ~500 miles south on I-95 after my time in Hanover comes to a close.

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Julia Bradley-Cook receiving her Certificate of Achievement from Dr. Bill Hooke, Senior Policy Fellow and Associate Executive Director of the American Meteorological Society.

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