Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Outreach: Polar Passion

Not everyone wants to spend summer in wintry conditions. But for Thayer PhD candidate Alden Adolph, Greenland’s ice sheet is the ideal place to be.

Alden Adolph
Courtesy of Alden Adolph.

And last summer she and fellow Thayer PhD candidate Amber Whelsky showed 15 high school students from Greenland, Denmark, and the United States what they and other scientists want to learn in polar areas.

Adolph and Whelsky did so as two of six Dartmouth grad student fellows in the Joint Science Education Project (JSEP), a National Science Foundation-funded program run by the Institute for Arctic Studies at Dartmouth’s John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding. Thayer Professor Mary Albert, who specializes in polar research, is one of the principal investigators for JSEP.

“JSEP allowed us to do outreach activities with high school students and share our enthusiasm and passion for science,” says Adolph.

Field work
Courtesy of Alden Adolph.

Glaciers, arctic plants, permafrost, and lakes were among the topics the high school students investigated. “We shared really detailed science with them and had them work on advanced topics, like snow albedo. Albedo is a measure of the reflectivity of the snow, how much of the incoming light is reflecting off that snow’s surface. What’s cool about albedo is how it links with snow temperature. Because the absorption of light impacts snow temperature, if you absorb more light in the snow, you’re going to heat up; if you reflect more light, the surface stays cool.”

Adolph and the other JSEP fellows taught the students how to make their own measurements in the snow and and let them draw their own conclusions. “They get to see what it’s really like to be a scientists or an engineer in the field. They can ask their own questions, and learn even more than what would be possible in a classroom,” Adolph says.

The JSEP group also experienced the camaraderie of collaborative research. “While we’re up at Summit Camp with the students, you wake up, you roll out of your -40-degree sleeping bag and come into the heated big house to gather for breakfast. It’s such a community. There are the JSEP students, grad students, and faculty, but also other scientists working on their own research and a full-time Summit Station staff. It’s sort of a big happy family in a big house,” says Adoph. The program has other strengths, she adds. “It not only introduces students to science, but it also provides an opportunity for students from across the world—from Denmark, Greenland, and the U.S.—to spend time together, get to know each other, understand the differences and similarities between their cultures, and grow to respect and appreciate each other.”

Alden Adolph field work
Courtesy of Alden Adolph.

As part of her own research at the Summit Station, Adolph set up three autonomous weather stations equipped with sensors pointed down at the snow to continuously log surface temperature. She also buried sensors to look at how the temperature changed with depth. The sensors were left to track data for 45 days. “Monitoring temperatures over time really help us have a better understanding of the temperature of the Greenland Ice Sheet,” she says. “We use these ground measurements of snow reflectivity and temperature to connect to satellite observed measurements. With this data set, we can look at the whole Greenland Ice Sheet and see changes and trends in the temperature of the surface, which will help us to better understand and project future sea-level rise.”

—Kathryn Lapierre

Categories: The Great Hall, Outreach

Tags: climate change, environment, faculty, research, STEM, students

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