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January/February 2010 issue


The cryosphere kid   (Page 1 of 4)


Robert Way wants to probe the permafrost and glaciers of his native Labrador, but already, at age 20, he’s thinking globally

By Scott Messenger with photography by Robert van Waarden
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
Cryosphere kid: Young Canadian scientist Robert Way travels to Norway to learn more about his home
Turbulent tundra: 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
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  • 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?
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  • The Future of Arctic Research

    After the glut of International Polar Year funding evaporates, what does the future hold for Arctic exploration? Read more »
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‘Where I come from, it’s all about the snow and ice.’
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.

Click map to enlarge
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.

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.


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Comments on this articleLeave a comment

I think that what you posted was very logical. thanks.

Submitted by Rash Ed on Monday, March 31, 2014

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

Submitted by maxer on Friday, January 28, 2011

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

Submitted by cheap Casual Shoes on Wednesday, September 29, 2010

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.

Submitted by Diane on Monday, February 15, 2010

Nice to read an article on another promising young Labradorian! Good Luck, Robert!!

Submitted by Kim Morris, Cartwright, Labrador on Sunday, January 31, 2010

Not really a cause for rejoicing. Dozens of reports indicate this ice is thin and that the Arctic has changed in a disastrous way.

Submitted by Anon on Friday, January 15, 2010

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.

Submitted by Tina Girardin on Wednesday, January 13, 2010

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."

Submitted by Ralph Grabowski on Wednesday, January 13, 2010

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