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Royal Holloway's Arctic mission helps inspire next generation of scientists

Posted on 12/10/2010

Crevasse climbing in Svalbard

Holly Reay, a PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London, spent five weeks in the Arctic Circle leading a group of teenagers in a research project investigating the amount of black carbon found on glaciers.

Black carbon from fossil fuels was highlighted by the International Panel for climate change as an important contributor to global warming. It has the second largest warming effect on global climate, aside from carbon dioxide, and is produced mainly by anthropogenic(“man-made”) activity.

During the expedition in Svalbard, a group of islands in the Arctic Circle, the team investigated black carbon's effects on the optical properties of snow and sea-ice.  The carbon absorbs light making snow melt and become less reflective.  Black carbon is relatively unstudied in comparison to other climate change contributors so this research will help the wider science community explore the area further.

Holly, who is studying a PhD in Earth Sciences, specialising in optical properties of snow and sea-ice, was awarded a grant from The British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) to carry out the research and she was also given a travel grant from Royal Holloway to help fund the project.

BSES is the country's leading youth development charity undertaking scientific research expeditions. It uses the underlying principal of 'adventure with purpose' to develop the next generation of leaders and scientists. It has been running extreme scientific research expeditions to remote wilderness areas around the world since 1932. Early expeditions collected valuable fieldwork data and brought back specimens for the Natural History Museum and the British Museum. These days, from glaciology and meteorology, to ornithology and physiology, it collaborates with a range of scientific research institutions from universities and world-respected scientists; to in-country NGOs and conservation organisations.

The students who joined Holly were aged between 16 and 20 years old and came from right across the UK including Surrey, Essex and the Midlands through to Cumbria and South Ayshire in Scotland.

Holly said: "This was my first time leading a group of people and it was a lot more challenging than I thought it would be. I found it was difficult to plan a research project that could be conducted in the middle of nowhere, by people who had no previous knowledge of the subject and in which the equipment was lightweight so we could carry it around in our backpack for five weeks. It was interesting for me to see which elements of the experiment worked and which didn't. The young explorers asked so many questions about the research, some of which I never considered myself and I found it very enjoyable.”

She added: “This research is important not only for widening the knowledge of the scientific community but also in developing teenage awareness of climate change and its effects.  These teenagers have been to one of the areas that will be most affected by climate change and studied what is causing it, perhaps it will make them think twice about their carbon footprint in the future.”





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