Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Dr. Robin Bell: Ice Dynamics of the Antarctic Environment

The students enrolled in FOR 496/797 Environmental Career Strategies for Women share the responsibiltiy for reporting on speakers in the Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Speaker Series for our sponsors as well as for submission to the Knothole.  The following was prepared by Rachel Tucker and Johanna Duffy.  Also note:  a brief summary of Dr. Bell's advice on how to prepare for tenure has been posted at  http://www.esf.edu/womenscaucus/Potlucks.htm

Dr. Robin E. Bell, Doherty Senior Research Scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, presented Antarctic Environment: Sub-glacial Lakes Linked to Ice Dynamics at ESF on Tuesday, March 4, 2008. This presentation was jointly sponsored by Syracuse University's Department of Earth Sciences, the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Program at Syracuse University, and the ESF Women's Caucus.
Dr. Bell discussed the changes in ice dynamics that are being observed in Greenland and the Antarctic environments. She summarized the causes and effects of these changes and also compared and contrasted the ice dynamics of these two environments.
Dr. Bell first focused on what constitutes ice dynamics. Overall, the amount of global sea ice has decreased in the past 5-10 years. This reduction is studied using ice dynamics (i.e., understanding how and why changes occur in the ice sheets). Dr. Bell explained that the melting of floating ice has no impact on sea level, but that the melting of ice on the land surface (ice sheets) can lead to increases in global sea level. The three ice sheets that are the focus of Dr. Bell's research are the Greenland Ice Sheet, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. The melting of any one of these ice sheets could result in a drastic rise in sea levels, from a minimum of approximately 19-feet (West Antarctic Ice Sheet) to a maximum of approximately 170-feet (East Antarctic Ice Sheet).
The melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet has increased by 0.7 percent a year. This ice sheet is characterized by outlet glaciers (fast flowing ice) located around its margin. It was discovered that moulins (glacial lakes) were conveying surface melt water to the base of the ice sheet, lubricating the base of the sheet, and forcing the margin areas of the glacier to break off into the ocean.
Dr. Bell began to focus her research on whether similar changes were taking place in the polar ice sheets in Antarctica. Her study determined that the ice dynamics observed at the Greenland Ice Sheet were not apparent in the Antarctic glacial region. The lakes of Antarctica are buried under many layers of ice, hence the name sub-glacial lakes. If the lake water levels drop, then so do the elevations of the glacier. Although her exploration team is making great strides in understanding the dynamics of the Antarctic glacial environment, more research is required to firmly grasp the causes and effects taking place in this region of the world. During the upcoming 2007-2008 International Polar Year, Dr. Bell and more than 5,000 other scientists hope to devote their time to polar studies and polar education throughout the world in order to better understand this world-changing topic.
Dr. Bell received her B.A. in Geology from Middlebury College, and her M.S., M. Phil, and Ph.D. in marine geophysics from Columbia University. Aside from her research duties, Dr. Bell is also the Chair of National Academy of the Sciences Polar Research Board and Vice Chair of the International Planning Group for the International Polar Year. She also directs Columbia University's National Science Foundation-sponsored ADVANCE program, aimed at recruiting and retaining women in the sciences.
For more information about the Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Speaker Series, please visit http://www.esf.edu/womenscaucus.

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