||January/February 2010 issue||
INTERNATIONAL POLAR YEAR
Robert Way wants to probe the permafrost and glaciers of his native Labrador, but already, at age 20, he’s thinking globally.
Photo: Robert van Waarden
Young Canadian scientist Robert Way travels to Norway to learn more about his home
Global warming’s impact on Arctic tundra
Crossing the line:
Observe changes in the tree line and examine its affect on Canada’s Arctic tundra
What is IPY?
International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-08 is a collaborative international effort to research the polar regions. Discover its key issues. Read more
Community research station
At the Kluane Lake Research Station, what’s happening in the Arctic is a family affair. Read more
Are the Inuit Healthy?
A mass health checkup of the Inuit attempts to set right a terrifying legacy left by the C.D. Howe
. Read more
The Arctic mercury mystery
Scientists rush to unlock why Mercury taints the Arctic air and what this means for the planet. Read more
A Canadian scientist in Norway
Does sending a geography student to Norway offer the answer to fostering Arctic scientists of the future?
The Future of Arctic Research
After the glut of International Polar Year funding evaporates, what does the future hold for Arctic exploration?
Discover videos, interactive features and photo essays mapping the issues, science and communities behind the International Polar Year.
A few hundred metres below Storbreen Glacier, in
the mountains of Jotunheimen National Park, Robert Way
investigates the leftovers of 18th-century Norway. Clouds
tumble into U-shaped valleys of pale emerald and spit a
sharply chilled rain. The wind drives it sideways. Way shrugs
to close the gap between collar and toque, then crouches
amid a pile of jagged grey stones, pressing a Schmidt hammer
to one of the few rust-coloured round rocks. The cloud
cover cracks to admit a band of sunlight that instantly
separates into a hazy rainbow. Ignoring it completely, Way
scratches a reading into a damp notebook. Then he reapplies
the tool to the stone.
|‘Where I come from, it’s all about the snow and ice.’
There’s not much call for sightseeing in such harsh weather,
especially when there’s work to do. Way is measuring surface
hardness, read by the rebound of springs in the hammer,
which resembles an old electric bread knife. It’s the job that
University of Oslo professor Ole Humlum assigned him
before departing for an errand involving a warm, dry van.
The stones in the moraines of glacial debris left by Storbreen’s
retreat will be softest here, given longer weathering. Higher
up the slope, beyond a lawn of green moss and dwarf birch,
stones in the next moraine, deposited in the 19th century,
will be harder, as they will in each of the succeeding 10 or
so moraines leading to the edge of the glacier.
|Click map to enlarge|
This sort of fieldwork, on a cold August day, isn’t exactly
what Way had envisioned when he signed up for an international
student exchange program called Cryosphere
Exchange back at the University of Ottawa, where he’s
finishing an undergraduate degree in geography, with a
minor in geomatics and spatial analysis. He’d rather be up
on the surface of Storbreen, where Jon Ove Hagen, another
University of Oslo prof involved in this week-long field
component of CryoEX, has led a group of students to
determine the net change in the glacier’s size. But Way’s
shoes, a cheap pair picked up before leaving Ottawa a week
ago, are so soft-soled, they threatened to ruin the crampons
needed for the ice walk. So he crouches, hammers, records
and doesn’t complain. “I like the cold,” says Way. “Where
I come from, it’s all about the snow and ice.”
From Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L., the son of a father
of Inuit descent and a mother from the Avalon Peninsula’s
Irish Loop, Way represents the next generation of researchers
focused on the snow, permafrost, glaciers, ice caps and
river and lake ice of the polar regions. Taken together, these
features form the terrestrial cryosphere, and despite the
role that the cryosphere plays in the water and carbon
cycles that influence climate change, it has been pushed out
of the headlines by sea ice and warming polar waters.
In a sense, CryoEX exists to balance attention between land
and ocean. The newly minted program was established by the
Universities of Ottawa and Oslo, with Carleton University and
Norway’s University Centre in Svalbard serving as satellite
institutions. The curriculum is exclusively concerned with the
coldest parts of the Earth’s crust. While Way’s home in
Labrador offers plenty of research opportunities in this field,
he came to Norway because he knows that polar science
thrives through the cross-pollination of theories and research
methods between nations. To succeed locally, you have to
collaborate globally, which means starting with data collection
in the wind and rain of unfamiliar territory.
But Way is also here to satisfy a desire to go where others
have not. Before he leaves Norway at Christmas, he’ll travel
to Svalbard, the country’s Arctic region. In February 2009,
his studies took him to Antarctica. “It’s one of those places
you can leave your mark on,” he says, noting that few people have been to both Antarctica and the Arctic
in the same year. This remark may demonstrate the
inflated sense of self-importance typical of a
20-year-old convinced that a promising career
awaits, but it’s also evidence of the expeditionary
spirit without which science cannot thrive. And
if programs such as CryoEX can foster either
attitude, they will put more of the world’s young
and curious on paths toward enriching our understanding
of the North, at home and abroad.
|Comments on this article||Leave a comment|
Your post really informative.It will be a growing area to watch this year. Like you say, comments keep the conversation going.They also provide additional insight to the readers and the bloggers. Comments offer a different perspective and put a
"face" to the readership.Orange County Web Design
I am glad to read this post, its an interesting one. I am always searching for quality posts and articles and this is what I found here, I hope you will be adding more in future. Thanks
I wish I was a scientist, because I believe in what these are doing and I wish I could participate in determining the facts in this issue. There is a lot of science that I think most people are particularly unaware of and it's important the information get out. I envy the writer's ability to cover this story. The best I can do is bug my MP to get some traction on the issue. Good luck writer and scientists all. The north is Canada and we shouldn't forget about it.
Nice to read an article on another promising young Labradorian! Good Luck, Robert!!
Not really a cause for rejoicing. Dozens of reports indicate this ice is thin and that the Arctic has changed in a disastrous way.
I was fortunate enough to do some research at KLRS with the University of Ottawa and let me tell you, Andy and the gang really make you feel at home. I wish you all the best with renovations and I hope to one day go back to the station to show my children how wonderful it is.
It's good to know that polar ice is increasing again: "A report from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado finds that Arctic summer sea ice has increased by 409,000 square miles, or 26 per cent, since 2007."