Posted by: sioglac | Nov 3, 2015

Cold takes!

(I assume that’s what you call a “hot take” if it’s about glaciology)

As I sit here in Christchurch waiting for my flight to Antarctica, I finally had a second to sit down and read some of the of press Jay Zwally’s new paper about Antarctic mass balance has received. There is a lot to unpack about this paper and we’ll save that for another day (maybe). In the meantime, some friends and colleagues have linked to a few articles that I think do a pretty solid job at discussing the issues surrounding measurements of Antarctic mass balance. Thanks Neil, Twila, and Helen!

From our fearless leader of the Scripps Glaciology Group, Helen, send this link along:

Unrelated, tomorrow we try again to catch a plane to Antarctica. Oh, and there’s something else pretty cool happening tomorrow, but I’ll save that for tomorrow!

Posted by: sioglac | Oct 30, 2015

Oh hai.

Time to dust off the ol’ field blog. Let’s see what has happened since the last time I checked in…

  1. I graduated, so that’s Dr. ScrippsOnIce to you! (Also, Fernando graduated! Postdocs for everyone!)
  2. I finally posted pictures from last field season. Oh and the season before that. Take a gander.
  3. I started an Instagram account for our lab group. Check out (and follow) sioglaciology.
  4. That’s an important link because it seems I’m leaving for Antarctica again tomorrow. I’ll be based out of McMurdo this year as part of the ROSETTA-Ice project (i.e., I’ll have sort-of-consistent Internet), so I hope to post to Instagram just about daily to show you the going-ons (goings-on? goings-ons?).
  5. I also hope to actually write text and post it on here. But, we know how that has worked out in the past

There are more updates, but I’ll send those along as they come up. For now, I have to head to a meeting about our outreach plan for COP21. Oh, right. I guess that’s a good update: Thanks to the kinds of the Scripps Development Office, I’ll be attending the United Nations Climate Change conference in Paris in December (also known as COP21).

It’s going to be a busy 6 weeks.

Posted by: sioglac | May 13, 2014

Vatican Day 2b: Andddd we’re back

Sincere apologies about that one. I’m back in the office in San Diego now, but I can pretend like it’s a week ago and I’m still at the Vatican, right? So let’s hop in the time machine and go back to the second day of the Vatican’s Workshop on Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature. I highlighted some of my favorite quotes from the second day, but never really gave a round up of what “went down”. I’m not sure the best way to do this because each presentation is 20 minutes of dense information followed by 20 minutes of inspired discussion. For today, I’ll give you a list of the speakers with a sentence or two summary of the important stuff. I hope this summary begins to give you an idea of how wide-ranging the topics of the workshop were.

As a programming note, I’ll round up the third and fourth days later on this week and then write a short bit hopefully early next week giving my general impressions about the whole experience (spoiler: I’m simultaneously discouraged about the state of the world and inspired that we just maybe might be able to salvage the situation). I also have about a million pictures of the workshop and general wandering around the Vatican. I’ll get those up somewhere on the internet ASAP.

Anyway, here’s some of what we talked about over a wonderful Saturday inside Casina Pio IVRead More…

Posted by: sioglac | May 3, 2014

Vatican Day 2a: an 11 hour day

Have you ever sat in a conference for 11 hours? The day after you sat in there for…11 hours? 22 hours of conference in 48 hours, after being at a different conference in a different country for the four days previous is ROUGH. Wow. So no recap on the day. (Even though it was awesome and Walter Munk (a) brought the house down with his talk and (b) had one of the greatest closing lines to a day ever: “As an oceanographer, if I had the choice between the sea encroaching on land and the land encroaching on the sea, I’ll take the sea over land.” [Meeting ajourned.])

I’ll write something up tomorrow. In the mean time, here are two links to summaries from Day 1 (NYT and CCC) and some quotes from Day 2:

“[The climate system] is not a computer with an undo button.” Hans Joachim Schellnhuber

“If you want it to last centuries, float it!” Walter Munk


Backside of the cupola


UN style desks


Workshop’s front door


Walter, post-talk, on the big screen!


Random arch. We can wander the Vatican at our pleasure… Probably the coolest thing ever.

Posted by: sioglac | May 2, 2014

Vatican Day 1: Two millennia of experience

Back of the envelope calculation here:

There are 43 participants. Let’s say each one has 50 years experience being a scientist (FYI for Walter, this is an underestimate by 50%). Conservative estimate: I’m sitting in a room with just about two millennia of experience of how to be a scientist.

Oh I guess I should back up here. If you missed previous posts: I’m at the Vatican for a joint workshop of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences/Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. There are three students here to watch. I am one of them. What does this mean?

Basically just that I’m way out of my league.

photo 2

Not a bad place for a conference, eh?

There are lots of things to say about Day 1. I’m tired, with this being my fifth consecutive day of day-long conferences, so let’s just hit some highlights:

  • Jeffrey Sachs definitely won the day, bringing the house down with his talk about sustainable developement and, in response to a question, rattled off one of the longest, most beautiful quotes I’ve ever heard, off the top of his head nonetheless (granted it was a JFK quote and he just wrote a book about the guy…).
  • I got taught biological evolution by Werner Arber today. FYI he has a Noble Prize for something he did with DNA. Oh and his slides were hand drawn cartoons #sciencecrush: photo 1
  • On the topic of two millennia of experience, one of the biggest things that has struck me is how these academics form questions (or, more generally, ideas). While there is always the person with the rambling questions at every conference, most of the questions and comments are impressively succinct, unambiguous, and, best of all, penetrating. It’s like a masterclass on how to be a scientist. I’m never going to be in a situation like this again, so I’m trying to learn as much as possible via osmosis.
  • On the topic of amazingness, some of the things that have come out of these scientists’ mouths is pure gold. “We carry our parents’ luggage…the role of education is desperately important.” “Throwing food away is unacceptable from an environmental and ethical perspective.” “We have filled up the nooks and crannies of the world’s economies to a very dangerous extent.” “Man is a technical giant, but an ethical child.” Obviously we (and by we, I mean them) have run the gambit of topics and done it incredibly eloquently.
  • Oh the guy who discovered Lucy is here.

That’s enough for now. Meeting starts again in 8 hours (tomorrow is cryosphere day!!!) and my walk in the morning along the Vatican wall is like 30 minutes (poor me, right?). So I’ll just leave this panorama here for you all:

photo 3

Posted by: sioglac | Apr 17, 2014

Ground truthin’

I have to get something off my chest: I’m an observationalist. What does that mean? Well in my research, I make direct measurements of what a glacier is doing (for example, with a GPS unit) and use these observations to test hypotheses that I (or we as a community) have about the way glaciers work. In glaciology, observations are relatively rare (though this is changing!). It’s not easy to take a lot of observations of, say, Antarctica because Antarctica is: (a) really far away, (b) has a pretty rough climate to work in (coldest, highest, driest continent on Earth, or as every training I have ever taken says, it’s a harsh continent), and (c) is dark 24 hours a day, 6 months of the year. To that end, I consider myself extremely lucky to have an incredible set of observations that not only contains year-round data, but also contains multiple years of data. While related to the topic at hand, that’s just a tangent for this post.

One way I really like using what few measurements we have of Antarctica is to “ground truth” remotely-sensed observations (like from an airplane or, more often, a satellite up in space) or models. Remote sensing and models are incredible techniques we use in glaciology to understand how glaciers and ice sheets work on scales we could never cover with direct ground observation alone. Case in point: it takes (at least) 2 months of my time every year to make sure not quite two dozen GPS units are functioning well in a “logistically simple” (read: super easy) area of one ice stream in Antarctica—imagine how long it would take to instrument the whole ice stream, let alone the whole ice sheet. My Master’s advisor, however, instilled in me a healthy sense of skepticism about both remote sensing and models: fantastic tools if their methods are verified and their limitations are known. That, in a nutshell, is what ground truthing is. In other words, you can leverage a pretty limited (in both a time and a space sense) set of observations on the ground in Antarctica to test whether the observations satellites continually make are precise and accurate and/or whether the outputs from models are consistent with what the ice is doing in real life. In this way, you can take a relatively small set of difficult-to-make observations and use them to put your trust into methods that draw much broader conclusions than you ever could with your one, small dataset.

With that in mind, you can imagine how excited I get when a new issue of Journal of Glaciology comes out and I find a ground truthing study. [I’m borderline giddy when I find one; in other news, I’m a big ol’ nerd.] One article in the most recent issue easily takes the cake for best paper I’ve read in a long time. Seriously, how cool is this:

Screen shot 2014-04-17 at 10.03.51 AM


“As a second result, the upstream end point of the computed trajectory emerges very close to the glacier surface in 1926, giving a new and global validation of the glacier model in space and time.” How the authors managed to type that sentence without ending it with about a million exclamation points is beyond me. I also love that they tagged the article with the keyword, “glaciological model experiments.” As my aforementioned Master’s advisor responded when I emailed this article to him, “Tough way to validate a model… ‘So, I was wanting to validate my model, and wondered if you could help me…'” Sorry Bob. If I was only in for a Master’s with you, I don’t think I’d be ready for that kind of, um, commitment to model testing. But I do enthusiastically support this type of ground truth study!

The paper delves into the model in quite a bit of detail (A pretty good paper! Give it a read if you are so inclined.), so we’re going to skip to my favorite section:

Screen shot 2014-04-17 at 10.04.06 AM

A mystery remains!!

I have on many occasions used investigating a crime as a metaphor for how a glaciologist does his/her research. You use a very small set of clues to piece together a hypothesis, then use a slightly larger (though still extremely small) set of clues to test if your hypothesis is right. Jouvet and Funk blow my metaphor out of the water with the establishment of a new field: Forensic Glaciology**. I cannot wait for the day that I’m flipping through the channels on TV and find an episode of CSI that calls in some glaciologists to help them with their case. It’s going to happen and, to those of you in Hollywood, I happen to know a glaciologist down the road in San Diego who could make a guest-star appearance for you…

Give me a ring, CSI. I’m ready for my closeup!

**Yes, I know this isn’t the first time glaciology has been used to investigate corpses, but it is the first time (I think) corpses have been used to validate modeling work. See here for another fun example of forensic glaciology.


Posted by: sioglac | Mar 31, 2014


Pictures are the best, right?? I told myself when I got back from the ice this season, “I’m definitely posting my pictures from this season before February is over!”

Well that didn’t happen. But they’re up before March was over.

You can always see Scripps Glaciology’s pictures by heading to our homepage ( and clicking the Picasa link on the right side (embarrassingly enough, that’s exactly how I peruse my own pictures too). If you are an old-hand at this and only want to see the pictures from the 2013-2014 Antarctic field season, here’s a link directly to those pictures:

Leave any questions you have about anything you see in the album as a comment here and I’ll be sure to respond.

“What’d you say? You put up pictures?? Meh, back to sleep…”

Posted by: sioglac | Mar 27, 2014

“The future starts today, not tomorrow”

To get things started with ScrippsOnIce v2.0, I’m not going to summarize my paper that was just published based on some of the data I’ve been collecting in Antarctica. Or Sasha’s paper that came out late last year about how quickly the subglacial plumbing can change. That will come in the future. Instead, I’m going to tell you about a pretty crazy meeting I have the honor of attending this May. Coincidentally, this all started while I was out on the Whillans Ice Stream, so let’s hop in the wayback machine to this past field season in Antarctica… Read More…

Posted by: sioglac | Mar 24, 2014

Programming Note

I’ve been thinking for quite awhile about the future of this blog. I obtusely referenced this struggle in a previous post from McMurdo and I think I’m finally ready to come to terms with it. A field blog only works if you (a) go to the field a lot (check!) and (b) constantly have new stories  from the field (……). I love my work out in Antarctica (there is a reason I keep going back after all), but to tell you the truth, it’s a bit repetitive: kick it in New Zealand for a few days, get stuck in McMurdo a week or three, fly to the Whillans Ice Stream, drive over 1000 miles on a snow machine, dig some holes, collect some data, come home. It’s been three years of that. Each year, I find myself with more responsibilities and, as a result, less time to write from the field. But I don’t even know what I’d write if I had time: I feel like I’ve told all the stories already. Plus out on in the middle of nowhere Antarctica, all the pictures pretty much look the same (not that I stop taking them).

So where is all of this going? We’re opening this blog up to be more than “our glaciology field blog” (though I’m keeping that tag line). I was inspired by the original Scripps Glaciology graduate student Jeremy Bassis (now professor at University of Michigan). He told me that in his lab group, once a week (or maybe every other week? I don’t remember; it was awhile ago) everyone is barred from using a computer. They read books, print out journal articles, derive equations on paper, and *gasp* don’t watch videos of cats on youtube. We’re gonna have the bizarro version of Jeremy’s unplugged vision: I’m going to reserve part of an afternoon every other week to update the blog on the going-ons of Scripps Glaciology, glaciology as a field, or just generally cool science. Already in 2014, our group has done some amazing work (6 publications in 2014 already?!) and I think you all should at least hear about the tasty end-product of the sausage factory I’ve been intermittently describing over the past two and a half years.

Sound good? We’ll get things started tomorrow (okay maybe Wednesday) with some prettttyyyy exciting news in the work life of Matt. Stay tuned.


This just about summarized about what happened to this blog :(

Posted by: sioglac | Dec 26, 2013

Fingers crossed

I think what I have come to dislike the most about delays in McMurdo is that when you say bye to friends and colleagues, someone always has to say, “Well I hope I don’t see you tomorrow.”

We're goin' to WIZ.

We’re goin’ to WIZ.

Older Posts »