Fair brother Lecture now on YouTube!

Here’s the final film of the public lecture I gave in May. Have a look, I absolutely promise it should be accessible to everyone, that’s the idea! Some of my friends were worried about coming incase they wouldn’t understand it and reviews have been pretty nice so I hope you will enjoy it too…


Sea Ice Cake

My hugely talented colleague Nat Melia passed his viva this week (whoop whoop), so as has become the tradition in Reading Met now he got a thesis themed cake. As he looks at the opening of shipping routes through Artic sea ice* I of course couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bake this one:

*Note the accurately diamond shaped sea ice floe rheology ( or ‘the shape the ice goes when there’s lots of it in bits’). My supervisor was the internal examiner so this was super important.


Fairbrother Lecture

I’m very excited to be able to reveal that I’ve been asked to give Reading University’s Fairbrother Lecture for 2016.

Named after Jack Fairbrother, who in 1929 became the first student to be awarded a PhD from the University, the Fairbrother Lecture is an annual event at which a current, or recent, Reading doctoral researcher will present their work to a wider audience.

A wider audience means that it should be accessible to everyone so please do come along to hear about my work as well as some more general information about the polar regions.

It’s free but ticketed: more information is available here.

Wednesday 4 May, 19.00, Henley Business School, Whiteknights, University of Reading

Fairbrother 2016 photo


The official announcement:

“The Graduate School is pleased to announce that Sammie Buzzard, a final year doctoral researcher from the Department of Meteorology, will give the Fairbrother Lecture in 2016. In this lecture, Sammie will discuss some of the key issues around global warming and climate change; in particular, the collapse of ice shelves in Antarctica. Sammie’s doctoral research aims to help us better predict the speed and rate at which these ice shelves – one twice the size of Wales – will continue to melt and she will explain the wider impact of this occurrence. Sammie will also highlight some of the challenges of researching one of the most inhospitable places on earth. 

Sammie Buzzard holds a Natural Environment Research Council studentship and had previously been a finalist in the Graduate School’s Three Minute Thesis Competition. 

In addition to her studies, in 2015 Sammie completed a Research Council Policy Internship at the Government Office for Science. 

If you wish to attend this lecture, please book your place using the online booking form: http://www.reading.ac.uk/news-and-events/about-event-register.aspx

NERC ATSC Fieldwork Training Part 3- ICE!!

Having spent time getting excited by the local flora and fauna came the day I was most looking forward to- the ice! Course tutor Ed had shipped up lots of radar and GPS equipment to Ny Alesund before our arrival so our first job was to work out how to distribute it all among us to carry up to Midrelovenbreen, the glacier we were going to be working on.

Once we were all loaded up we walked out to the glacier and split into teams on of which used GPS to plot out a path up the glacier, then they were followed by the team with the ground penetrating radar. The radar is on a sledge that would normally be pulled by a skidoo but Ed had decided that as he had a handy supply of PhD students he could use us.


Team sledge dog pulling the radar equipment along the glacier (twice as someone forgot to turn it on the first time…)

We were able to attach some show chains to our boots that allowed us to walk on the glacier without falling all over the place. The path up the glacier was marked out initially by piles of rocks by the GPS team, and then spare team members as the surface of the glacier became far less rock covered the further up we got. 20 years of education to get to pretend to be a rock…



We stopped at the top of the glacier for lunch and a quick sunbathe.


After lunch at the top of the glacier we were shown a melt river that in some places was completely hidden by a layer of snow and ice over the top- a reminder that even a glacier that feels very safe can have hidden surprises.


Once we were back to Ny Alesund a few of us still had some excess energy so decided to go for a hike up towards the atmospheric research laboratory on a hill near to the town. This was our first time out on our own without a course leader so we were hopeful for no bears. Due to the measurements they’re taking  at the lab we couldn’t get too close but we still managed to get high enough to get some excellent views of Ny Alesund even if it was much more of a climb than a hike. The decision to go back down the shale front tested my balancing skills to their maximum, although little did I know that we were being checked up on through the base telescope and probably providing quite a lot of entertainment into the bargain.


A fairy steep and chilly climb up…


But worth it for excellent views of Ny Alseund and this glacier behind the mountain.

Once back at the base we had a chance to look at our biological samples and review Ed’s images from the radar.

The next day it was sadly time to head back to Longyearbyen but this was made slightly more bearable through it being via a stunning flight over the ice caps.

Our final meal of the trip provided an opportunity to finally meet a bear, thankfully our rifle training wasn’t necessary.



NERC ATSC Fieldwork Training Part 2- Rifles, Reindeer and Really small creatures

Our first task of the first full day in Ny-Alesund was one I think I’d been excited about and dreading in equal measures- rifle training. After a slightly grim hour of being told which places were best to shoot a polar bear and looking at case studies (polar bears are one of the few creatures that will actively hunt humans, not reassuring…) we were taken up the rifle range to put the theory into practice. Turns out I needn’t have been worried, everyone was a pretty good shot even after being made to run around the hut the simulate the adrenaline of being confronted by a polar bear.

Target practice

Target practice

Fresh in the knowledge that we could all defend ourselves we then had to relearn everything using the UK base’s rifles and their procedure. Luckily it wasn’t too different to the main Ny Alesund procedures but still more to take in!

We then had a chance to explore some of the equipment that the UK base owns- the polar circle boat. We somehow managed to get into some boat suits that were definitely not built for small people, and then it was off to explore the bay along with all the mandatory questions from the course tutors about what safety gear we should be taking etc.


Looking fly in our boat suits

The boat can get some quite good speeds up on the water, despite the ice bergs and we were able to get quite close to the glacier front. It was amazing to be able to sit and hear all the ice cracking when the engine was turned off.

The front of the glacier

The front of the glacier

On the way back we were lucky enough to spot our first land based wildlife- two reindeer and an arctic fox. Adding these to the pod of beluga whales spotted on the first evening we were doing pretty well on the wildlife front so far.

(clockwise from top left) Some beluga whales spotted from the dining room, a spy was spotted, arctic fox, our first reindeer.

(clockwise from top left) Some beluga whales spotted from the dining room, a spy was spotted, arctic fox, our first reindeer.

The it was off for a first small hike to put into practise packing up our kit, taking the right gear and preparing the rifles. We headed towards some pattern ground, a natural phenomenon where the freezing of the ground causes of many years circular and hexagonal patterns to form in the rocks at the surface.


Pattern ground

The next day was our first full hike. We went along the coast up to a cliff where kittiwakes breed in order to take samples of the mosses and surface soils. We took these back to the base to find out what tiny creatures were lurking in them. Although the visit of a reindeer and another arctic fox were a bit too distracting for most of the group…

The local wildlife did its best to distract us from the moss and minibeasts

The local wildlife did its best to distract us from the moss and minibeasts

On our way back we made a discovery in the ground along the coast:


Found, with a much smaller set along side…

As exciting this was it was a reminder that as one of those carrying a rifle that day I could ultimately be responsible for the group’s safety. Although the rifles are there as only a last resort it does make you question if it is the right thing to be in the bears’ habitat at all.


NERC ATSC Fieldwork Training Part 1- Getting to and ‘surviving’ in the Arctic

Students and tutors in sunny Cambridge, now fully briefed on health and safety, GPS and croquet.

Students and tutors in sunny Cambridge, now fully briefed on health and safety, GPS and croquet.

For me the end of August involved 3 fairly intense but fun days learning about planning fieldwork. Health and safety actually kept us interested for 2 hours, who ever would have thought! Would Scott have survived Antarctica if he’d had a risk assessment? Probably not being seeing how all the mistakes  stacked against him showed the benefits of planning and openness. Soon it was time after exploring the British Antarctic Survey and being fed far too much food for the two groups of 8 PhD students set off to put what we’d learnt into practice at 79 degrees North.

As well as helath and safety we got a chance to explore the British Antarctic Survey archives, poor Angela with her "rather short legs"

As well as helath and safety we got a chance to explore the British Antarctic Survey archives, poor Angela with her “rather short legs”

Our journey took the best part of two days, and included 3 planes, 2 taxis, a bus and 13 hours overnight on a boat… with 7 bunks for 11 people. I didn’t need my maths degree to know that this was not going to be a journey with much sleep involved. Luckily no-one chundered and we all managed to at least get some form of sleep, bonus…


Beautiful view as we left Longyearbyen


Loading up the boat. Luckily Ed has sent his approximately 2000 tonnes of GPS gear ahead.

Fortunately the scenery was suitably stunning enough to distract from the lack of sleep and we had many bird shaped friends to accompany our journey as well as fun games of identify the whale/seal/walrus/mystery creature. Our wildlife spotting skills did not improve as a result of the trip- even by the final day Pete Convey (course tutor) was outraged by our confusion between seals and ducks- to be fair they were very far away.


On the boat, in the sun. Whoever said the Arctic was tough?


With fewer people than bunks some of us had to get creative with sleeping spaces!

Eventually, after avoiding some icebergs we arrived in Ny-Alesund, the most northern settlement in the world and our home for the next few days, the NERC owned, BAS run (did I get it right?) UK research base. The town used to be predominantly for mining, and much of the mining infrastructure is left over as ‘cultural heritage’. Some of this, such as the abandoned train is quite impressive but there is also a lot of rubble and local opinion of this is quite mixed but the decision was taken to leave it all as a memorial to those who were lost in a big mining accident that ultimately led to the closure of the mines. The town was also used as a starting point for Amundsen’s expedition to the North Pole by airship, you can still see the mast that the airship was attached to.

The base commander, Nick, greeted us at the jetty and soon made us feel at home. The base has endless tea and biscuits and even gin on our first evening where we were fortunate enough to be able to share with Kim Holmén, the international director of the Norwegian Polar Institute who’s stories can probably only be rivaled by our very own Nick.


Storytime with Nick, the bay provides a handy supply of ice for g&ts.

Storytime with Nick is a key feature of life on the UK base- from life as a base ‘medic’ to the Falklands War he’s seen it all, or at least knows someone else who has.

The base itself is very cosy, I even had my own room which was a nice surprise, and hot showers. Luxury! Radio contact is made often with all field parties so one of our first jobs was to learn how to use the radios, as well as being given a tour of the base and learning all the safety procedures, before getting down to the serious business of washing ice for the gin.

Then to the most important part- food! All the nationalities have their own bases but mealtimes are eaten together in a big dining room with stunning views of the bay, glaciers and frequent wildlife. Eating tea while watching beluga whales is definitely not something I’d expected. There is a lot of choice and I think I could get fat very quickly had I been there much longer.

However, it couldn’t all be fun and games and most had an early night to recover from the boat and be ready for a key event the next morning- rifle training to protect from the very real danger of bears… To be continued!


My room in the UK base, look Mum, no mess!


One of many safety mechanisms in place- knowing who is in the field.


The dining room- all nationalities eat together.

The Arctic in the news- Arctic sea-ice melt prediction using melt ponds

Even though I’ve mostly stuck to Antarctica news so far this bit is important for two reasons. One it’s about melt ponds, which is what I look at but on the other side of the world, and two it’s the group that I’m part of at Reading, go CPOM!

Melt ponds on Arctic sea ice, copyright NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Melt ponds on Arctic sea ice, copyright NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

What’s happened?

The CPOM group at Reading have just released a prediction for the 2014 Arctic sea ice minimum. They did this by using the fact that there is a correlation between the fraction of sea ice covered by melt ponds  (pools of melted ice) in spring and the minimum amount of ice that will then be present at the end of the summer.

The reason for this is to do with the ponds being darker than the surrounding ice, as you can see in the image above. This means that they absorb more energy from the sun, which can lead to warming and further melting.

What does this mean?

These short term predictions are mostly important for predicting shipping routes but the more we know about modelling processes such as the formation of these ponds the better models will be for predicting future extents- one of the greatest uncertainties in predicting future global temperature changes is sea ice level fluctuations.

What’s next?

The prediction has been entered into the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States (ARCUS) Sea Ice Prediction Network–  an annual comparison between different scientists’ predictions, but we’ll have to wait until September to see if Reading’s efforts will do well in the rankings!

An inforgraphic produced by University of Reading to go with today's news.

An infographic produced by University of Reading to go with today’s news.