Larsen C Iceberg has finally gone!

After months of intense scrutiny and media attention the Larsen C iceberg (now known by the catchy name A68) finally broke away from the ice shelf.

To hear about just how big this berg is (how big even is Luxembourg eh, The Guardian?) I went on BBC Radio Berkshire to talk about this trillion ton ice cube, you can listen here.

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Should I bet on an iceberg? What is going on with Larsen C?

The ice shelf that my PhD is based on last week hit the headlines with the news that a crevasse in the ice shelf had grown suddenly, and now an iceberg of about 5000 sq km (that’s about 1/4 the size of Wales to use the internationally recognised unit for big things) is set to break away from the ice shelf. Should the iceberg break off it will be one of the top 10 biggest every recorded.

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The crevasse between Larsen C and the potential ice berg (image NASA).

However, the big news among glaciologists is surely that that things we find exciting have finally made it in the big time: Paddy Power are offering odds on when the iceberg will detach (or calve to give it its technical name).

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So is it worth a punt?

Well even the experts aren’t sure. Prof Adrian Luckmann, who is part of the MIDAS project which released the news about the crevasse told the BBC that he’d be “amazed” if the iceberg doesn’t calve in the next few months. Looking at the scale of the crevasse and the speed at which it seems to have grown recently this seems like pretty sound reasoning:

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However, before you go splashing all your cash on January and February remember there is still 20 km of ice holding that iceberg on, which is still a fair distance. We also don’t yet know what caused the sudden growth of the crevasse at the end of last year.

Large break up events tend to happen in the Antarctic summer (i.e. our Winter) so if it’s going to happen and it’s not in the next month or two it may well not be until next year.

So that narrows things down quite a bit but there’s still a bit of guessing to be done if you feel this is more worthy of your money than guessing how many goals Chelsea will score against Leicester on Saturday which I’d personally recon as being a much safer bet.

A few other notes about this iceberg that may be of general interest:

  • Its breaking away won’t contribute to sea level rise (it’s already floating on the ocean so it has already displaced its own weight in the water), but it may make the ice shelf less stable.
  • aAlthough previous ice shelf collapses such as that of Larsen C’s former next door neighbour Larsen B did follow big iceberg events, there was significantly more melting observed on Larsen B prior to this, so a sudden collapse of Larsen C is still unlikely.
  • However, if Larsen C did collapse it could lead to sea level rise through the glaciers that used to flow onto the ice shelf speeding up and flowing into the ocean.
  • Yes, penguins have been known to live on Larsen C 😦

And remember, please gamble responsibly. And that does not mean signing up for your free bonus bets and then putting them on Barnet FC to get promoted. That would be silly.

 

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.

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What is a conference? Part 2- the BIG meeting- AGU Fall Meeting 2015

My PhD has so far taken me to some pretty exciting places and I’ve been lucky enough to secure some travel grants that have allowed me to really make the most of my allocated travel money. However, despite the fact that my friends and family seem to think I’ve been constantly off on holiday conferences are actually pretty hard work and essential for making a career for yourself in the scientific world.

Recently I wrote about my experiences at a small meeting in Iceland. Small meetings tend to have a set programme, you all see all of the talks, everyone has lunch together and you have a chance to speak to the bulk of the people at the meeting. My other conference trip last year was to the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting in San Francisco and was completely the other end of the scale. With over 23,000 attendees it is the largest Earth and Space science meeting in the world, and is spread across 3 buildings. At any one time there are many talks going on as well as multiple poster sessions; here the poster session is the size of several football fields.

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A small fraction of the poster hall at AGU.

Given this, I was slightly sceptical about how much I was going to get out of the meeting. Even though I had put in the effort to be prepared for what I wanted to see the first couple of days were exhausting and I didn’t feel like I was picking much up. Even simple things like going for dinner were quite hard work with limited WiFi and even though I knew plenty of people there I kept missing many of them. The icebreaker reception was pure chaos- the crowd outside waiting for the free beer and merchandise from the exhibitors reminded me of the crowds you see on the news for black friday!

However, once I got over the jet lag a bit things went up hill. I realised my brain was too saturated with science on Wednesday to take in much more and instead joined to queue to watch Al Gore speak (a definite advantage of a larger conference)- he was very into the space science he was talking about, funny and nothing short of inspirational at the end. Words I’d never expect to use about a politician. It was also nice to have dinner with my UCL colleagues, and catch up with old Reading colleagues and Karthaus friends throughout the week.

Thursday was a very early start for my talk but I was glad there were still quite a few people there for the time of the morning. Straight after my talk I had responses on twitter and the next day at the poster session I spoke to several people who were interested in my work and able to offer help and advice, or were just starting out on their PhDs and wanting to know more.

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Giving my talk. Unfortunately no-one ever sits near the front but there were a lot of people there, honest! Thanks to Nat Melia for photographing.

It is these interactions that make the conferences so useful and so essential. Not only have I found help with my own work, I may be able to help others with theirs and collaborate in the future. You also get a good idea of what other people are working on so you know where there could be gaps to look at things in the future.

It’s a weird old world in science as we are all at the end of the day often rivals for the same pots of funding, but we also all need help from others to get to where we need to be. Meetings like AGU are essential for this and also good for just getting to know what’s going on more generally in your field- Iceland was great but it was very specific. AGU gave me chance to watch big keynote speakers such as Eric Rignot talking about sea level rise, the notes from which will definitely be useful for putting my PhD in context both in my viva any upcoming Fairbrother public lecture.

Conferences also are of course a lot of fun and luckily there was a bit of time for sight seeing and even a Parkrun* the day after the conference ended. It was also useful that the conference was right next to Bloomingdales for those moments when a break from the full on science was needed, but don’t tell my supervisor that…

 

*The last one in the world in fact and therefore probably the only one where coming last is a more exciting achievement than winning.

What is a conference? Part 1- a small meeting- International Glaciological Society Iceland Symposium

This June I had the chance to attend my first international conference. It was a little daunting being as I’d only been to UK conferences before and had never spoken outside of my home Universities but the chance to visit somewhere so stunning definitely helped to mitigate that.

The journey there was an adventure itself- fill a tiny plane with glaciologists and fly them over an ice cap and you are bound to get some pretty excited people.

The conference itself was a really good size- there were 120 delegates which means that it is very easy to get talking to people. The day consisted of talks and poster session. Talks are as you would expect, a speak has about 12 minutes to give a presentation on their work and then the audience can ask questions. Poster sessions are usually in another room where people can wander and chat more informally with those presenting their work as a poster. These are often at the end of the day and over drinks.

Being a small meeting the talks were quite specifically in the area of ice shelves, ice sheets and glaciers which was good as I felt I understood a lot and also picked up things from people that are lucky enough to actually go to these places or use satellite data to learn about them.

My talk thankfully seemed to be really well received which was a big relief and has definitely helped with the thesis writing motivation. This was slightly bad timing being as I was about to start 3 months away from Reading on my Government Office of Science internship but it’s definitely made me keen to get back to the science and given me extra confindence that this a career that I can do.

A highlight of the week was the mid week excursion to the Hoffellsjokull glacier. Finally, after 2 and a bit years of PhD, some actual ice! I was clearly not the only theoretician that was overly excited by this as one was heard to exclaim, seeing the chaotic crevassing  in the ice “and we’re supposed to model this?!” We were greeted at the end of the hike with Brennevin (an Exeter Uni musician staple, no-one could understand why I was quite so averse to it), horse meat and pineapple. When in Iceland…

The conference was great for making contacts, I got to see some old Karthaus friends, and make new early career buddies as well as meet a lot of interesting and important people from withing glaciology. I have hopefully got a chance to collaborate with others outside of Reading and have since been invited to give a talk by one of the other attendees. Sadly it was all over too quickly, but even the journey home from the conference was picturesque with the bus stopping at least every half an hour to view lakes and waterfalls. Iceland, I’ll be back.

 

Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year and thank you to everyone who has followed or read this blog in 2015! Here’s the Toblerone cheesecake* we celebrated with.

I hope to keep posting plenty next year, but I suspect the thesis may get in the way a little. However, once that is done there are some exciting adventures including hopefully some fieldwork in the Bay  of Bengal to tell you about so watch this space…

 

*It’s really easy, just add 1/2 a melted toblerone per 200g of cream cheese in your standard cheesecake recipe. Let it cool until it’s just starting to get solid before adding!