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July Monthly Student Highlight- Julia Shates

July 31, 2019

Photo of Julia Shates

While awards and appointments attract much of the news attention, the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences department has a large variety of work going on behind the scenes. As part of our Monthly Highlights series, the AOS news page will be featuring different faculty and student projects once a month. These highlights will be showcasing published papers, community outreach events, field campaigns, Q&As on climate change and weather phenomenon, and other topics as they come up.

Last summer, Julia Shates attended the Arctic Field School in Utqiaġvik, Alaska. As part of an international effort to improve remote sensing and field observations in colder regions of the world, graduate students and professors spend two weeks taking observations of snow depth and sea ice. In addition to this, they help operate ice core drills and learn techniques for classifying data from polar orbiting satellites. Julia’s project focused on combining observations, modeling, and remote sensing data to better understand the relationship between sea ice and local conditions.

Julia’s writeup can be found here.

How did you end up getting involved with the Arctic Field School?

I follow several organizations and different institutions on social media and came across a post advertising the INTPART Arctic Field Summer School on remote sensing and field measurements of Arctic, coastal environments in rapid transition. I also attended a two-week summer school at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) in 2016 on Modeling the Arctic Climate System. I keep my eyes open for opportunities like these because they’re fun and I get to learn new things and meet new people.

What are some of the challenges of conducting field work in such a cold environment?

It is critical to wear the correct gear - and layers! Since it was late May/early June, it wasn’t truly that cold, but while ~25F may sound mild compared to winter temperatures, being outside and exposed for hours at a time it can start to feel a lot colder.

What was the overarching goal of your project?

After a few days in lectures, and learning field methods and how to use the instruments out on the lake ice and sea ice, participants formed groups and developed questions and projects based on their interests. My group members and I wanted to connect field observations, satellite remote sensing and modeling to explore the sea ice in the shallow lagoon. I was specifically interested in the thermodynamic model of sea ice growth and incorporating precipitation data to account for the snow above the ice.

Your write up explains your project as ‘ambitious’. Why is that?

The first week of the summer school is like a boot-camp on methods and general background of the region - the second week is when we can work on the projects. So, in that time, we looked for relevant background literature for our questions (with unreliable internet), collected more data, worked on our data analysis, tried to understand the results, and prepared a 20 minute presentation. In general, the task of completing an accelerated project is quite ambitious! On top of that, attempting to use a model, observations and remote sensing to understand sea ice growth and break up is challenging.

What do you think was the most interesting thing you learned at the field school?

This question is so difficult for me to answer! It was really interesting to actually see and feel the Arctic conditions. For example, the way low Arctic clouds look against the white snow-covered sea ice and tundra… Sometimes you can’t see where the sky ends and the snow begins.

It was also really rewarding to learn how to take measurements of the snow and ice. We measured sea ice thickness and drilled ice cores, and we dug snowpits and calculated the snow density… and with all of those experiences, we asked questions and made observations right there.

What other work have you done with Arctic research since then?

My research here in AOS is on precipitation in Arctic and subarctic regions. Specifically, I’ve been studying snowfall using observations from a suite of ground-based instruments, such as a vertically profiling radar, that were deployed at two sites in Scandinavia. I’m excited to continue studying high-latitude precipitation, and hopefully will get a chance to deploy instruments in the field for future studies.

Also, this last June I participated in the third Arctic Field summer school at Kluane Lake Research Station in Yukon, Canada. It was more interdisciplinary this year and I learned a lot about about doing research on land that belongs to First Nations people. Historically, the world of academia and scientific research has not given enough credit to First Nations and indigenous people for permitting access to land or sharing traditional knowledge.

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