Notice: We are in the process of migrating Oral History Interview metadata to this new version of our website.
During this migration, the following fields associated with interviews may be incomplete: Institutions, Additional Persons, and Subjects. Our Browse Subjects feature is also affected by this migration.
Please contact [email protected] with any feedback.
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Robert Binschadler by William Thomas on 2009 June 8,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
This interview was conducted as part of a series documenting the history of scientific work on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). Since 1990, Robert Bindschadler has been a key organizer of this work as chair of the WAIS initiative, an annual workshop dedicated to sharing research results and strategizing about future work. He has also conducted glaciological research as a member of the staff at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Goddard Space Flight Center. In addition to these positions, Bindschadler discusses his entry into glaciology, work under Charles Raymond at the University of Washington, brief work with the Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule) ETH in Zurich, his arrival at NASA, field work on the Siple Coast Project, and the inclusion of glaciological work under the Earth Systems Science rubric at NASA.
This is Will Thomas. I am here as part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Research Project, as far as the history of it is concerned. I am here with Bob Bindschadler at NASA Goddard on June 8, 2009. So to get started, why don’t we talk about, I guess just your own personal background: where you’re from, what your family did, and that sort of thing.
Okay, sure. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And I always had an interest in science. The first connection with ice comes, I would say, at the end of my time in high school. High School or College? I guess it was more college. My family had a habit of taking summer vacations to different parts of the country, so I had the benefit of seeing most of the country before I ever went to college just through summer vacations when I was in high school. No, it was in college when we took a vacation across Canada and we saw the Canadian Rockies, and I was really struck by them. Temple Glacier in particular, on Mount Temple, I remember to this day… We also took the glacier bus tour on Athabasca Glacier.
I’ve been on that tour actually, I think.
It was neat. I have a picture of myself standing alongside my mother and my younger brother, and I do not look like a glaciologist. That was the farthest thing from my mind. But I think a seed was planted then. I got a degree in physics and astronomy.
This was at Michigan?
Yes. I started with astronomy and then I picked up another degree in physics before I had ended. But I didn’t really know what to do with those things, so when I left Michigan, I just hung out at my parent’s house and did a little bit of construction and worried them no end that I was going to come to no good. But as I continued to go back to the library just to pick up books, and my dad would pick up books on Your Career in Organic Chemistry and that kind of stuff, and I would just pick up some sort of picture book of mountains, and I loved the picture books of mountains that had snow and ice in them. That led me to pick up a book on glaciers. It was called The Physics of Glaciers by Stan [W. S. B.] Patterson, and I read it that night, cover to cover it was a fairly small book. Then I read the front material of this book that I had just devoured and it said it was a graduate-level textbook for glaciology, which I had never heard of before. But I had the physics background, so it made sense to me.
If you don’t mind us going back, what sort of got you into physics in the first place?
I just found it interesting in high school. We had a dorky physics teacher a lot of people made fun of, but I thought he was neat. And I enjoyed some of the lab work, and the equations were simple enough for me to understand. My dad was one of these people who liked to repair stuff and tinker, and if something didn’t work, take it apart and figure out how to fix it.
What did he do for…?
He was an organic chemist. [Chuckles] So I think I grew up in that kind of environment where, “how does that work?” And taking things apart and trying to — usually it was to repair things that had broken.
Was he in one of the universities in Pittsburgh or industry?
He worked for Westinghouse Research and Development Center. And so he actually didn’t do too much with organic chemistry, but he still was in that scientific environment. So there were a couple of summers when I was in high school when I had internships at the R&D lab. So I don’t know that I really found my calling there in any of those summers, but at least I still interacted with other scientists and I guess I got a broader perspective of what a career in science might actually look like.
A feel for the on-the-ground activities of science.
Yes. So I think there was a latent interest there that never completely went away. So I think it really did all come together when I picked up that book on Physics of Glaciers, and it made sense. I had drifted from astronomy back into physics because astronomy, when I was at the University of Michigan, those were the turbulent end of the ‘60s and the beginning of the ‘70s, so it was campus protests. I was in ROTC initially, but then you know I was more in the protest ultraliberal side of things. Astronomy just seems so esoteric, it didn’t matter.
Were you in ROTC because of Vietnam?
No. I don’t know why I was there. It might have just been an easy credit and it didn’t seem like a bad thing to do. But once the more radical politics sort of came in conflict with that, I dropped out of ROTC. Although I never went fully radical, but it was still very much a concern about the world and society and how the military-industrial complex, was the buzz word back then, was sort of imposing their will on the poor folk around the world. So astronomy just didn’t fit in to that; it was just too disconnected from life on Earth. So I picked up a degree in physics, feeling like I only needed a couple more courses anyways and it would be more marketable. But in the end I applied to a lot of grad schools but my heart wasn’t in it, so I had a whole stack of grad school catalogs but no desire.
How did you end up at Michigan in the first place?
It was a good school for astronomy and physics. When I was finishing up high school — that was sort of — the astronomy thing was always an interest of mine so we used that as a guide to pick colleges. And I wasn’t disappointed. I liked Michigan. It was a big school. My wife now, she graduated from a much smaller school, and I went to her reunion. I have to admit, I was a little bit jealous because she still had very close connection with a lot of her professors and all, a very different experience than a big university experience. But at the time it seemed like it was good for me, and it probably was. I didn’t socialize really well, so it kept me sort of in the books, and for better or worse that just sort of kept my head in the science. And then after that, that year and a half of sort of drifting around and finally finding glaciology.
Where did you get the book on The Physics of Glaciers?
At the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh. Yes, I just went to the card catalog and looked up snow, ice, glaciers, because I liked the pictures of mountains that had snow and ice and glaciers. And so I was just following my nose at that point.
W. S. B. Patterson pops up and there you are.
Yes, and it was good. And it referenced a few scientific papers, and most of them in something I had never heard of called the Journal of Glaciology. Fortunately, I, to this day don’t know why Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh carried the Journal of Glaciology. So I went there and took a couple of issues and I just copied down the names and addresses of people who had published papers and I wrote them this letter: “I’m interested… I find glaciers interesting, I have a degree in physics, I’ve done some star models in Michigan my senior year.” You know, “Tell me more.”
You graduated in 1971, so this is then getting into the early-to-mid ‘70s.
So the ‘71 to ‘73 time period was when I was writing these letters. And of course I got lot of, “That’s nice, but I can’t offer you anything,” kind of letters back. But there was one who said, “Well, I can’t offer you anything, but write these other people because I know they’re getting a project started; they are interested in somebody who can put together a glacier model. Maybe your experience in star modeling would have some relevance or interest in them.”
And who are these people?
Well, the person who wrote back was Colin Bull, and he had two graduate students, Ian Whillans and Terry Hughes at Ohio State. But he said, “Write Barclay Kamb at Caltech and his two students, post-docs that had just left him, Charlie Raymond and Will Harrison. Charlie Raymond was at Washington, Will Harrison was in Alaska. So I wrote a second wave of letters to those people, and Charlie Raymond wrote me back that said that he had just received a grant from NSF and they were going to be looking at [a] surging glacier up in Alaska, along with Will Harrison, and that they were looking for a graduate student that could start to put together a glacier model. So I had their graduate school catalog, and sure enough they had not just one glaciologist — I had already started to go through this stack of graduate school catalogs. Most didn’t have anything remotely associated with glaciology.
There are only a few people. That’s one of the things that strikes me, going though Patterson or the early literature, is that it’s all Weertman, Nye, Lliboutry, a couple of other guys.
Yes, they were the forefathers of it, really. I might find one school that had one person that was interested in snow or something. But at Washington — this is sort of a seminal moment, I remember it quite distinctly, that I looked at the University of Washington’s literature, and they had Norbert Untersteiner in sea ice, Ed LaChapelle in snow, and Charlie Raymond in glaciers — three, which were two more than anybody else had. I said well, this could turn out to be quite a good place to be. I had to crack open the books again and study for the GREs, and sweated my way through that. And actually I received an acceptance letter from the University of Washington the day before I had to take the GRE, so really the pressure was off. So I went out there, and as I say, the rest is history. It really worked out well because Charlie Raymond was totally devoid of ego and so brilliant that he was just a great person to work under.
He was primarily working on mountain glaciers.
Yes, he was. Although the place I really wanted to go to was the University of British Columbia with Gary Clarke, and I had written him one of these letters in the second wave as well. That was just because my connection to glaciology on a personal level was this Temple Glacier in Banff National Park in Canada, and so that’s Canada; Vancouver was close, and I wanted to go there. But Gary said that it wouldn’t be good timing because he was about to go on sabbatical to Africa for six months or a year or something. So that wouldn’t work out too well because he was the only glaciologist there; I should be there when he is there, not start when he’s not there. So I didn’t go to UBC, although I’ve had a close relationship with Gary since then. Because all those glaciologists — Alaska, Canada, Washington, all the way down to California, that whole West Coast game — they would get together once a year for an annual workshop, they called it the Northwest Glaciology Meeting, which was a great learning ground in terms of giving papers and interacting with more people. So Gary was part of that game.
So far I haven’t run into that West Coast community quite so much, because as I was mentioning before, I’ve been focusing on Antarctica, and all those people are primarily Antarctic people, and you come in through the mountain glacier aspect of it. So I’m wondering if you could elaborate maybe a little bit.
Sure, yes. The big three groups were the University of Washington, what it was doing with Charlie and Ed, and Norbert. And then the USGS, Mark Meier led a glaciology group in Tacoma, just south of Seattle. That was a government lab, but they were focused on Columbia glacier and benchmark glacier measurements for the U.S. Geological Survey. And then UBC with Gary Clarke. Although it was only he as the professor, he’s so dynamic; he just had a whole slew of really good graduate students there. So those three institutions were so close to each other, they really were the lynchpin of the Northwest Glaciology Meeting. And like I said, we’d get together once a year and rotate locations, and we’d draw in some people from Alaska that also had a USGS component up there. And Will Harrison as well, because Charlie and Will were working on a Variegated Glacier project, the one that I started on when I was a grad student, and the USGS connection, we would get quite a few people from Alaska there. And then a few from California led by Barclay Kamb, who was the mentor of Charlie and Will. You could have a glaciological family tree there, and the connections were pretty strong between those people. And it made an environment that was really sort of all to itself. It wasn’t, I would say, strongly connected to other glaciologists in the country or in the world, although we still played our role in going to international meetings. But it was coherent enough and large enough in terms of a critical mass that it was a great training ground for glaciology. Mark Meier finally left and went to Colorado and the USGS component sort of withered away. Gary Clarke recently retired, although there are still some decent people at the UBC. University of Washington has continued to be strong because there were enough additional people that came in before Charlie retired that it has its own sort of next-generation strength now. Alaska is still kind of there, but USGS has gotten out of the glacier business. So Washington is the real strong leader still out in the West Coast. But overall, that just was a fantastic environment within which to learn glaciology
Tell me a little bit about that, the concerns of Charlie Raymond, and I guess coming from the tradition of being Barclay Kamb’s student.
What are the primary interests, I guess?] Barclay is just strong in everything, but he’s very strong in theory. And Charlie Raymond characterized himself as a theoretical glaciologist with strong field interests, but Charlie also is top drawer in both of those. He can do theory and the field and combine the two. That’s actually one reason I think he was such a strong mentor. If there was an observation that was made, he would want to develop the theoretical explanation for it. And if he stumbled across something in the theory, he would say then this ought to happen in the real world and we ought to be able to go out and observe it. So he was seamless going back and forth between the two. And I think Barclay similarly so. Barclay would choose those tough problems. Barclay, for the longest time, was the authority in what is happening at the base of a glacier. At that particular time it had more to do with what causes a glacier to surge, which is a sudden advance, and not so much with ice sheets, although both Barclay and Charlie eventually got drawn into the ice sheet question.
But they weren’t polar researchers at all at that point?
No, they were mountain glacier guys, very definitely. But I think it was because the emerging awareness of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet as having so many shared characteristics and probably shared dynamics with what they had been studying with sort of radical behavior of mountain glaciers, surging glaciers, that that thread drew them into the West Antarctic activities, to the benefit of that larger investigation because they are just fantastic scientists.
How many students were there at Washington?
Ed had a few, two, three, who would go off into the mountains when avalanches were imminent, and try to figure out why the snow avalanched, how to forecast that. Norbert Untersteiner and a couple of other people, he had actually a larger project called AJAX going, which was a large field activity, putting field camps up in the Arctic sea ice pack to understand how that ice pack was moving around. So there were a couple of research faculty associated with the Ajax project, and then a number of graduate students, three pop to mind straight away, that were on the same floor of the building where I was. And then Charlie — see, I was his first graduate student, and he had a couple of others that he was the partial advisor, and he was on their advisory committee but he wasn’t the chair of the committee. Charlie started slow with just me, and then after I left there were another couple that came in. He kept the numbers as low as he could. So a good half dozen, and right there on that floor that we’d interact on a daily basis, and then when you went over to the AJAX building, that was a short walk across campus, it was another whole sort of sub-community of a dozen people there, post-docs and graduate students. It was quite a robust set of multi-generational people looking at glaciology and the sea, ice, snow, and the glacier categories. And then Will Harrison had a couple students up there. We would get together on the glacier every year, so there was that mixing of those people as well. But when the Northwest Glaciology Meeting happened, it was really a draw from these different communities. We would be 30 people, something like that. It was sort of a real vibrant, intellectual community. It was really, really good. A lot of people who came in from the outside recognized that and sort of spawned the British Branch Meeting and the Midwest Glaciology Meeting. Other people tried to capture that dynamic because it was so exciting, really, in an intellectual sense.
If ever you want to tick off names, that’s fine also. Sometimes it’s useful later on for establishing connections. Sometimes not, sometimes it is, but it’s always fine even if we don’t go anywhere with it necessarily, or I don’t know who they are.
Well, I can say that my first day at the University of Washington I met Charlie Raymond, and he walked me down the hallway to the place where my desk would be. And Steve Hodge had just finished. He wasn’t Charlie’s student, so he must have been Ed LaChapelle’s student. He had been working on Nisqually Glacier on Mount Rainier, and studying its motion, going there surveying it every few days. But he had just finished quite a thick thesis, and he went off to the USGS in Tacoma, so he didn’t go too far away. And Alan Thorndike had another desk there. He was part of the AIDJEX group, so he was quite a bright sea ice — from a mechanical point of a view, kind of modeler. After Charlie showed me his desk, and he went back to his office, I was alone in the office with Alan Thorndike, and just said our hellos, and he said, “I’ll give you the best piece of advice I can, and that is listen to and remember everything that man says.” He was absolutely right. It just seemed a bit, not a surprising statement, but a pretty bold statement. But he couldn’t have said it better. Alan was always one who was very sparse with his words, but they were worth listening to, every single one. And he was right, Charlie was terrific. I mean, many worthy experiences I had as his graduate student. When I would go into his office with his question — his door was always open — and I would not come out for an hour, and my head was just absolutely spinning at the end of the hour. We had filled the board with questions and diagrams and all kinds of stuff, and I could barely remember the question I had gone in there with. I usually could remember the answer, but then there was all this other information. I would rush back to my desk and I would just write down as much as I possibly could from memory, so I didn’t lose it. Because Charlie was one of those people if you just give him an idea, give him a question, and it would spark just curiosity on his part and he would just take it and run with it, and run fast. He was just incredible, where that would go. So in that sense, he was a perfect mentor, because I mean as a role model he’s just amazing. In the field he was equally amazing because he was very competent, always personable, never flustered, never angry with people, and had no ego whatsoever. Again, the role model that he presented just could not have been better. Will Harrison similarly was that kind of unflappable, enjoyable, always telling jokes, but very competent, getting the work done and asking the right questions in the morning so that day’s work was worthwhile. They worked together very well, and it just couldn’t have been a better environment. There are some other graduate students who came in as field assistants; some of them didn’t work out too well, others just got interested in some other things. But I felt there was so much to learn from those two in the field that it was — As much as I wanted to go to UBC, I don’t think it could have been any better. It might’ve been as good, but it couldn’t have been any better for me. So I felt like I was really well prepared. The only thing in hindsight I regretted not learning from Charlie was how to write a proposal. That didn’t become apparent that I didn’t know how to do that until I came here [NASA Goddard] and had to write one. I’d stare at a blank sheet of paper and go, “How do I go about this?” We had written some technical papers, and I had even co-authored some papers. That didn’t seem quite the challenge that writing the proposal was, but I overcame it. I think in every other aspect I was extraordinarily well prepared by Charlie’s tutelage. I just can’t say enough good things about him. It will come up again, I’m sure, but one of the other really, really nice things about me looking at my career — I know it’s not just about my career — but I eventually became the president of the International Glaciological Society. That society has sort of a, we don’t call it this, but sort of a lifetime achievement award. “You are a special glaciologist, rising above almost all the others.” It’s called the Seligman Crystal. My first year of three as president, the awardee for the Seligman Crystal was Charlie Raymond, so I got to present him with that award, and that was really nice. That couldn’t have been better because I just gush with praise for Charlie. What he’s done for me and what he’s done for glaciology, it’s just fantastic. So I was pleased the day he said he was interested in West Antarctica, bringing his intellectual force down there, and it was good. He has perspectives, insights that just don’t seem to occur to anybody else. So that was sort of me in grad school.
Could we talk a little bit about your research in grad school?
Yes. Charlie’s interest in me was because of my background in modeling. And he wanted, as part of this Variegated Glacier project — he and Will Harrison were the two investigators — for somebody to come up with a glacier model that would follow in time how the glacier evolved from one surge to the next surge. He didn’t think, and he was right, we couldn’t the model surge itself, but that’s only a brief period of time in sort of the life cycle of one of these glaciers. The mechanics and the understanding of the mechanics and the physics was, we thought, pretty well established, so that there was in the non-surge phase, called the quiescent phase, so that there was a good chance of being able to model it. And that was my job. The only other tangent I’ll add in there is that my first semester he had John Nye come spend a semester at University of Washington just to interact with Charlie. It was the second semester, I think. Because here I was, in my first semester, of course, I had been given all these papers by Nye and Weertman, and all these guys, and of course it’s impossible not to form this opinion that they are the foundational blocks upon which modern glaciology, dynamic glaciology rests. And then here John Nye was coming. And I remember when he first walked into the library. I remember it because I had, unbeknownst to me, formed this visual impression of John Nye. He must be about 20 feet tall, and he must glow, you know. And he comes in, and he was having trouble with his back. He was actually of average height, but he was bent over, and looked fairly weary and fragile, quite honestly, but that was John Nye. He was a brilliant guy, and I really enjoyed getting to know him. That was only because of that contrast between what he actually looked like and this impression that I had formed, that he must be almost able to walk on water. So the work I did was putting together these equations and trying to make the model work, and learning sort of the basic principles of dynamic glaciology, so I got to learn them not only from Charlie but also from John Nye. As I was putting the model together things were going pretty well, and then Charlie took a one-year or at least six-month sabbatical to Japan. This too was really good for me, because although I was horrified initially, I was instructed to write Charlie every month about how the work was going. It was going pretty well, and then I sort of had the model together and all I had to do was make a change from a local slope calculation estimation of the stresses to a longer-term slope — and there was a reason for doing that, it averages out some other stresses. But everything worked with the local slope, and so I just changed one thing in the program to say, “Okay, now the slope is a longer slope,” and the model just completely blew up and it was just giving crazy results. I had no idea why, and Charlie wasn’t around, and it was hard to sort of write this down and explain it to him. So I had to solve that on my own, and it had to deal with numerical instabilities in the equations that were being used. I had to write pages after pages of analysis to try to nail down this character of this numerical instability. But I had to solve that one pretty much on my own, find the people that I could talk to that would help me through that kind of analysis, and I didn’t have Charlie to lean on. So I think that was really good for me to have been able to solve that one myself, because I just saw my thesis just flash before my eyes because I thought I was getting close to wrapping it up, and it just was in shambles all of a sudden, but it all came together…
When you think of a model as working, is it because it generates sort of plausible behavior, or do you actually match to a specific set of data?
Yes, so what we wanted to do is we went to the field twice every summer, the beginning of the summer and the end of the summer, and we had stakes all over the glacier and we would measure the shape and motion of the glacier at the beginning of the summer and at the end of the summer, so we could see the fact that it was moving a little bit faster in the summertime because of water getting underneath the glacier and lubricating it there. But when it surged, it just did one of these big spluh, just sends a lot of ice from high elevation to low elevation, and then in the many years between surges all this stuff melts and this stuff accumulates, it’s not flowing as fast and it just builds up again. So my model was intended to take it from the post-surge geometry and let it build it up again to what we thought would be the geometry when it was ready to surge again. So the model was supposed to do that. And we had observations from the field that gave us snapshots of what it looked like at different stages. The model had to be tuned through various parameters that we had flexibility to adjust, so that it matched at those different milestones. So that would have been the definition of, “Yes, we think the model’s working.” So the equations… and capture the right physics, and it’s using those equations in a way that allows it to evolve the shape and motion of the glacier in a way that matches the observations. I mean that’s ultimately the test of a model. Then that builds some confidants in the model so that when you go beyond the observations on into the future, that it’s still a creditable estimation of how the future is going to play out for that particular glacier.
Are these sort of two-dimensional models, where it was sort of a cross section of a linear glacier?
Yes, this followed the central flow line along the glacier, and with some parameterization of the effect of varying width. In fact this glacier was chosen because it was fairly simple that way — it had almost a constant width all the way down, so that the manner in which we would try to make two-dimensional calculations representative of a three-dimensional glacier was simpler, we thought, if it didn’t do wild width variations. So that was paramount in Charlie and Will’s selection of this glacier as the candidate one. So the work was both going to the field and making the observations, doing a lot of the data reduction, because this was back in the days where you would set up a tripod with a theodolite and you’d turn angels and you’d have to shed it from the sun. It was labor intensive, and you’d come back with notebooks full of numbers and angels you’d have to reduce to actual positions. It was writing some of the programs and modifying some of the programs (I didn’t write them from scratch) to make them suitable for those data sets, as well as taking those data and putting them into the model. The model I did have to write from scratch: in the end when I left grad school I had two big card boxes, and one of those and little bit of the next one was the model, so it was a little bit over 2,000 punched cards.
So these go through a computer, then?
Yes. So you’d write down all the equations and you’d write the computer code, then you go down to the keypunch room and you’d just be punching in every single character of every single equation. You’d get your cards and then you walk over to the card reader and you read them, chkchkchkchkchka, and it would chew up a couple cards. Then the printer would chucunch chucunch chucunch chucunch, come up with a response.
What kind of a computer was it?
It wasn’t a Cray, it was a CDC 6400, I think. It was state of the art. It wasn’t one of these big monstrous computers that they did climate models in, but it University of Washington’s mainframe computer in some other building, and then we had a terminal room where we kept the keypunching and the outputting and that kind of stuff. It was technology of the day, but it would be laughable in today’s standards. So there were a lot of times spent in that room, again with fellow grad students doing the work of keypunching, and noticing whose output was coming out and arranging that.
You’d have to code in FORTRAN or something like that?
Yes, it was all FORTRAN. They were good days, actually, because the camaraderie of grad school was really quite enjoyable. I think because glaciology tends to be a field-based science, or at least it was then, most of us went to the field, whether it was sea ice or snow from in the mountains or glaciers, and so we were fairly, I don’t want to say athletic, we were fairly healthy, and we had another sort of camaraderie fiber around sports teams, intramural sports, and we had two that would race against each other in rowing shells, and we had a football [team]. We had one guy that was really into sports, so he tended to be the athletic director for our little geophysics program, and worked even in Department.
And even all the different team sports.
Yes, so we had football, and softball and all that. Which just helped our identity, I think. Esprit de corps I think was pretty high in the geophysics program, which made grad school just a lot of fun, quite honestly. And the work was good. I worked hard in grad school — late nights and all-nighters here and there. But it was a good time. I really felt like, well I was having a good time, and I knew it.
A lot of the Antarctic scientist I have been working on, when I get at of a notion of fieldwork, I know that they are out there night and day. I’m wondering when you’re working on a mountain glacier, do you go out there and do your work and then go stay somewhere, or do you actually do sort of the same thing?
Well they do in Europe, but we didn’t in Alaska, that’s for sure. Yes, the nature of the fieldwork was interesting. Variegated Glacier was not chosen because it was simple to get to, you know, because it wasn’t. We had to go to Yakutat, Alaska, and Yakutat is a fairly tiny coastal town with natives who survive by fishing salmon primarily, so it’s a very strongly seasonal activity, so the rest of the year it’s quiet. We would go early summer and late summer as I said. They had an airport there primarily because of World War II — it was a nice spot to have an airport as a flat coastal plane.
What part of Alaska is this in?
There is the panhandle and there is the big part of the state, it’s right where the two come together. So the airport is outsized for the small size of the town. I guess they had a boom there for a while but it was definitely in the bust phase. We went there, but we needed a lift from the airport into the mountains where the glacier was. For a time there was a moose hunting airplane service; they service primarily moose hunters, though it, too, was seasonal. So we could catch them in the off season. They actually had to buy some floats for their plane and this crazy pilot would land on the snow on these floats that were intended for the water. That happened for a while, then he got more and more nervous about it, he didn’t like it, and the moose hunting business was where he was really making his money. So fortunately helicopters came to town because of the interest in Alaska oil, and we used helicopters to get up to the glacier. It was always a fairly tenuous operation to get somebody at the airport to actually pay attention to us and get us to the glacier and then get us back. Radio communications were never very good, we’d only call when we needed something; sometimes we couldn’t get through so we would have to scramble up the ridge or something to be able to talk to Yakutat. When we were on the glacier, we were just there and just dependent on our own devices.
Yes, it was all tents. For typically six weeks in the beginning of the summer and typically two weeks at the end of the summer. I was there almost all of the time, and Charlie would always go, Will would always go, I would always go. Will would find a grad student from Alaska, and if it was the quick trip at the end of the summer that was usually just it, four people operating teams in two. It could be dangerous. I mean we would be roped up and sort of all the standard mountaineering practices were followed. In the early summer we would often have six or seven people. Barclay Kamb finally came because we wanted to start probing the base of the glacier, so he had a hot water drilling system — very rudimentary, but it was sort of state-of-the-art at that time. So he would come with a number of other — That was more of a complex operation; you needed grad students to shovel snow into a place where it would get melted in the swimming pool to hold the water. And it was less mobile; it would stay in one spot and do its investigations. But Charlie, Will, and I would be walking up and down the glacier. It was about, it was 20 kilometers long, so about 13 miles. Sometimes we would stay down on the lower part of the glacier for a few days, do our work down there, and then come back. It was great. It was a lot of fun. It was a lot of winter camping style. We would get wind storms that would blow everything down. There were times that everything got blown down and it was just blowing so hard. Usually the windstorms would last half a day, three quarters of a day — never a full day. Well this one did. It just wasn’t letting up. And so Charlie said “well, let’s dig”— We lowered him down the side of a crevasse and he just started to dig a hole in the side of the crevasse for a snow cave. As the snow came down, that filled up the crevasse beneath, so by the end we had this fairly small snow cave and this ledge of snow that had filled up the crevasse as sort of our front porch, and we spent the night there. I remember the next day. He got up. It sounded quiet, but it always did there because you were well out of the wind. And he stuck his head up, and he came back, and you could sort of see it was encrusted with snow. His hair was always wild, but it had been blown. He said, “It doesn’t look bad. Let’s go out.” [Laughter] I was just this deep in my sleeping bag; I didn’t want to get out. So that’s why Charlie was so good in the field. It was a wild day out there — but it was blue sky, but it was still blowing. The field days are just some of my fondest memories, I think, because that was great. I liked the field work, it was fun. And working through Yakutat could be stressful, but usually the best times were usually once you were free of Yakutat on the glacier. Much the same way now when you go through McMurdo. McMurdo is okay, but you really want to get out in the field. Once you’re out in the field you try to disconnect as much as possible from McMurdo just so you can focus on the work. They try to help, but the best help they can provide is just to let you go. [Laughs] So, grad school was great.
That’s five years?
It was five and a half. Towards the end I had a personal issue. I was going down to Sacramento because there was lady friend down there, so I would disappear at the end of the first summer’s trip and then go down there. And then Charlie wanted me to reverse the data, and, “Where is Bindschadler? Is he in California again?” Yes I was, and I’d come back and he said I wasn’t focused on my work, and he was probably right! No. [Chuckles] So I may have lasted a little bit longer in grad school than Charlie wanted me to, I’m not sure. His support for the grant, I think, was running out and I didn’t have my thesis done yet.
Who was the grant, NSF?
NSF, yes. So I ended up working a time for the US Geological Survey for Mark Meier in Tacoma. That was more just they were paying me the last few months as I was ending my thesis. But that really was a wake-up call for me, that my support was not coming from Charlie anymore, it was coming from USGS, and they wanted me to do a little bit different stuff, and I really had to finish my thesis, and what was I going to do after that? Charlie helped me find a post-doc position by writing a good friend of his, Hans Roethlisberger in Switzerland. This was a Swiss National Science Foundation fellowship. Hans Oeschger, who’s a great ice core scientist, he had a lock on this year after year, but there was a year that he didn’t have anybody tapped for that fellowship, and it worked out beautifully for me because that was the year I would need it. So Oeschger talked to Roethlisberger, Roethlisberger talked to Raymond, and Raymond talked to me and said, “You know, I think we have a position for you.” Jay Zwally here [at NASA Goddard] was trying to hire me here as part of the ice group because they wanted a modeler to start modeling the Antarctica ice sheet, and that was what my thesis was about, modeling ice. And there was a possibility of going to Australia too. But the opportunity to go to Switzerland and study sub-glacial water flow, when you are already starting to get the idea through the work that Barclay had done on Variegated that sub-glacier water flow really mattered a lot. Because we saw through my model it would get worse and worse every summer because the glacier was going faster every summer, but about the same speed each winter, and that was telling us that the summer increase in velocity was probably tied to the increasing influence of water. So that’s sort of was where the science was going.
How recent is all of this surge physics of glaciers at this time?
That was happening right in the mid-1970s when I was in grad school. We got the ability both in Switzerland and in the US with these hot water drilling systems. They started out as steam drills. Steve Hodge, who was this grad student that had just finished when I first arrived, he had a steam drill, and that’s essentially taking a pressure cooker… well, it was a pressure cooker mounted to a pack frame, and a propane tank with a burner to heat up the pressure cooker, and then a hose off the top instead of the relief valve — that rocker thing that rocks back and forth on the pressure cooker, you had a hose — and that went through a whole system of hoses to a rod that had a tiny Venturi opening at the end. You made steam, and you actually melted your way down through the snow and the ice with steam. Which was dumb, because that last little bit of making water steam, you put a whole lot of energy into it, and the first thing that happens to the steam in the hose once it gets into the ice is it cools down and you lose that heat and you get hot water. So they said, well let’s just make hot water and not push it that last little bit to make steam, and then the drills got more efficient then. But they were figuring that out in Switzerland, so this was Roethlisberger’s group. So it was a very easy transition because they were working on very much the same type of question: “How is water moving underneath the glaciers, and how is that effecting the motion of the glaciers?” using many of the same tools, so we had already had sort of a lot of interaction at international meetings and the like just because of that. And it was Switzerland! My God, I mean the birth place of glaciology, it was great. So I felt like I really got lucky with the timing of that, and I went there for a year. And it was great. It was, again, working with Roethlisberger and Almut Iken and some of the technical people there. And their mountaineers — Willy Schmidt was a mountaineer that was just delightful. He was a mountain goat as near as I can tell on two legs. Getting into sort of [the] European glaciology community, it really helped me connect with those people. They do glaciology a little bit differently. They have field camps, yes, and we got snowed on and had to shovel out and things like that. But you could also do the monitoring just by sleeping in your own bed at night, getting up, taking a Swiss train that kept to the timetable precisely, get down to Zermatt, hike into the mountains, make your measurements, have lunch, make some more measurements, come down, get the evening train, and be back in your bed that night. And see beautiful scenery all the way. They had their field campaigns, too. There you could go to a mountain hut where the climbers were and have a good meal that night, cooked by a mountain cook, and sleep in a bunk that night and then ski down to that field camp the next morning. It was pretty nice, and you get to see the Matterhorn all day long [chuckles]. It was really good. I had a really good year at the ETH [Bindschadler pronounces the letters in German, [ay-tay-ha] — it was very strong intellectual environment. ETH is just dripping sort of with science, culture, and intelligence there. It was really a good, good place.
Just for the recording, that’s the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
Right, and they had the Versuchsanstalt für Wasserbau, the VAW, the department [where] I worked. But again, the post-doc was ending. I could have gone to Australia again, but I didn’t want to do a whole series of post-docs. NASA was still interested in me, and I was able to get hired literally before Jimmy Carter imposed a hiring freeze on civil servants, so I just slipped in as the door closed. Because they were still interested in modeling; I was still modeling. So I came here right after Switzerland, and I was asked to put together the model of the Antarctic ice sheet and its flow. Because this awareness was becoming so strong that the subglacial hydrology mattered, we realized — I felt like we were missing some equations, really, when it came to modeling the behavior of the ice sheet.
This is in about 1979?
Yes, I came in 1979, so I spent ‘78 and ‘79 in Switzerland. It was right at the end of ‘79 that I made the move here. In the mid ‘70s, quite apart from me, was the Ross Ice Shelf Project. I’m sure Bob Thomas told you a lot about that, and Charlie Bentley. I was a mountain glacier guy. I actually had continued some of my work on — Well, surge type glaciers I left behind because that was my thesis work, and when I went to Switzerland, they don’t have surging glaciers in the Alps. It’s still kind of a question as to why surging glaciers appear where they do and why they don’t appear where they don’t — it’s still a somewhat open question. But they had lakes that would be confined by ice, and the lake level would rise during the summer when there was a lot of melting, and then they would have an outburst flood. So suddenly the water would find its way out from underneath the glacier somehow, and as water would start to flow, it would flow faster and faster, open up a big channel in the ice and they would have an outburst flood. Iceland is sort of the one place where this happens on the grand scale, but Switzerland had it happening, too. They also saw this increase in summertime velocity just on the standard glacier, not one of these outburst floods. So that’s were their science was, and that’s sort of what I was working on, trying to apply ways of capturing this increase in summertime velocity by somehow or other parameterizing what the water was doing to lubricate the base, and there were various sliding indices and things like this. There were some rudimentary ideas about sliding velocity of ice against a hard bed and a soft bed, so we were trying to wrap our head around that and getting observations that would lead us to equations that would be predictive so that we could use them in models. The progress was slow. It was hard to figure out what was really going on. But that’s what the observations in Switzerland were all about. So I was still in mountain glaciology, and because I had been working with USGS some, their focus was on Columbia Glacier, a big tide water glacier that was coming out just beside Valdez where the oil tankers would go in to get the Alaska pipeline oil in Valdez, and there was concern that the Columbia Glacier retreating and calving off a lot and these ice burgs threatening those tankers. So I was still working on that a little bit in Switzerland, so all this was happening. And I got strongly focused in the last couple months just before that post-doc was ending, and my final project there was less related to those things. Versuchanstalt fur Wasserbau was given this project by the power company in Switzerland, which they wanted to build a dam, and they wanted to raise a reservoir behind it so they could create hydroelectric power, and they wanted to raise the level of the water high enough so it would submerge the terminus of a glacier, Griesgletscher. They were worried, because they had heard of these tide water glaciers that would calve these big ice burgs and threaten tankers, was that a danger?
You actually have a paper on this, I see.
Yes, that came out just at the end of my time at the ETH. It fell to me to model that: start raising the water in the reservoir, start submerging the terminus, and tell us what the glacier is going to do. Well, the easier part was how the glacier was going to respond sort of in situ. The hard part was is it going to calve, because we didn’t have any sound knowledge of what is really involved in calving. We can’t predict calving even to this day. How big are the chunks going to be? How strongly are they going to drift across and hit this dam and is the force going to actually threaten the dam or not? That part was tough, and it was just sort of all fluffy results that were written up for that. But for me, the more interesting part was how is the glacier going to respond. So I sort of played this game of hit the dam. How would the climate change so that the glacier would get big enough that it would actually advance and sort of push the dam? That’s what I was doing towards the end of my time there. The bottom line was that glacier was in a slight retreat mode, and it took a big kick to the climate to turn that around, to reverse the retreat and then get it advancing and advancing strongly enough and the 100-year lifetime of the dam that it was going to matter. But it was interesting applied glaciology. So that was sort of how I wrapped up my time at ETH because I’d been sort of tinkering with a number of things, but I wanted to have something of substance that I could close up. As I was packing up to leave, that’s what I did. I came here doing ice sheet models, so it was a completely different environment because I had been only doing mountain glaciers. I still had the Columbia Glacier thing going on, and it was getting more and more active. So I did get a publication or two out in professional papers for USGS. There again, the problem was we didn’t know how it would calve, but if it did calve, it would probably retreat pretty fast. In fact, we see that now, although the model couldn’t quite handle that sort of catastrophic behavior. But I had a foot in that topic as well. So I’d done surging glaciers. I’d done sort of the standard glacier. There are tidewater glaciers, and now here I was going to ice sheets. So, there was a Chapman Conference I think in 1983 (or ‘87? I think it was ‘83) that tried to draw together… go a little bit farther with Antarctica. So what was going on when I was doing the glacier thing was the Ross Ice Shelf Project and the geophysics and glaciological survey there called RIGGS and RISP. They’re learning a lot about the ice shelf and that sort of had finalized just as I was ending at the ETH, so ‘78, it was over. I came to NASA. Bob Thomas came here as a contractor, again brought in by Jay Zwally. So we shared an office, and it was his strong belief that the Ross Ice Shelf Project really only was the opening chapter of — it hadn’t answered any questions. That whole project was predicated on the fact, sort of this idea of the cork in the bottle and the buttressing effect of ice shelves on land ice. So the focus really always had been on the potential impact of losing ice from the ground at West Antarctic Ice Sheet through the ice shelf. That’s why they were studying the ice shelf, and so they had only done the ice shelf part. They wanted to go inland. Bob Thomas was very strong in that to study these ice rims.
This is very striking to me because it’s a fairly narrow concern in the late 1970s because Hughes has sort of his system-wide models that combined with Paleoclimatology and his concerns with the succession of ice ages and that sort of thing. And Bob Thomas is one of about two or three people to pick up on it, and then he goes to Maine for a couple of years and then he comes here. So I’m very interested in Jay Zwally bringing people here and also, I guess the role of Bob Thomas. So if we could maybe fill in a little bit of background as far as you know.
Yes, well I’ll add some other names. Bill Budd sort of almost had the same stature as Hans Weertman and John Nye. He’s Australian. He wrote as his thesis this textbook on dynamics of large ice masses. The Australian focus has always been on Antarctica, but he had his own ideas about how to introduce lubrication. He was influenced by John Mercer at Ohio State, who was looking at geological evidence, and from the geological evidence John Mercer got the idea that West Antarctica may not have been there and that ice sheets might actually surge. I think he was influenced by these people working on Variegated Glacier and some of these weird glaciers that did this odd thing called surging, and he said, “Well, I wonder if that would be a way of getting rid of a lot of ice in Antarctica.” He is not a glaciologist, but he did put out that thought that parts of Antarctica might have surged. Bill Budd, who was an ice sheet guy and was into the dynamics and did want to try to parameterize this lubrication effect had a way of doing it and just forced it into a model. He could twiddle some knobs in his model and make significant portions of the Antarctic ice sheet surge. Didn’t know if it was real or not, but it was — So this idea that the ice sheets could be more dynamic was coming together from those different quarters. And Terry Hughes, too, was looking at evidence of… I think he was strongly influenced again by the geologists. He was at Ohio State with John Mercer, and the Kellogg at Maine. I don’t remember when Terry went to Maine.
It was mid-’70s, yeah.
Okay. Davida and Tom Kellogg and George Denton and all those guys at Maine had sort of taken the geological focus.
Hal Borns, yes, he’ll come into this for sure. George was looking at the mountains. Kellogg’s looking at sediments offshore. John Mercer looking at fossils. Hal Borns was a geologist like George. They were getting this picture of, like, “Geez, the ice sheet has been way out there out in the oceans, and it looks like it came back quickly.” That strongly influenced Terry, I’m sure, to get this sort of holistic view.
Yes, they had that whole CLIMAP project.
I see Terry as the Cecil B. DeMille of glaciology.
I think that’s a good characterization.
Yes. The grand scale — I mean he put together that film [presumably referring to Hughes’ ideas about the long time-scale behavior of Antarctic ice sheets]. Bob Thomas was at Maine for a while, so I’m sure there was sort of an exchange of thought there. So Bob Thomas had his explanation of how this could happen, and it was through the ice shelves. Bob Thomas, his focus on the ice shelves was rooted back in his days with the… was he actually an employee of the British Antarctic Survey? I don’t know. But he was there in England and had spent two summers at Hadley, which is an ice shelf station that the British have, studying ice shelves. So that’s what he knew best, and that’s sort of his door into which he came into this room was the ice shelves. I don’t know Bob Thomas’s early history well enough to know how he linked up with Charlie and some of the others that were there.
That’s ok,[ we covered it in a separate interview] actually piecing together the Ross Ice Shelf Project. But I’m sure Bob Thomas’s opinions that the ice shelf is what matters was —
Well, actually it wasn’t centered around the question. I think it’s only once you get to the Siple Coast Project that it’s actually motivated. I think the Ross Ice Shelf Project and RIGGS is just motivated by a need for a general survey of the whole behavior of the ice shelf, and that it’s during this period that the concern over the future of WAIS is raised by Terry, and Bob Thomas goes into dialogue with him about that. Then attention focuses on the ice streams by the end of the decade.
Another really key piece of all that was Hans Weertman’s work on marine-based ice sheets.
Yes, and the instability hypothesis, because that’s really what brought, I think, it all together where people started to put their finger right on West Antarctica because we knew it had a base well below sea level. Even though there are parts of East Antarctica with marine basins, it’s never been sufficient to draw our attention from West Antarctica to those basins, although they come into the conversation now. The real focus, the prime focus has always been on West Antarctica because it’s so deep and it has those ice shelves already. There’s no sill that we have to get over to get into those deep basins. But I think as much as Bob Thomas may have been interested in the ice shelf in its own right, I think — Well, he and Charlie Bentley felt — Well, he. I’m not sure how Charlie Bentley felt about it. They wrote a joint paper about the grounding line retreat. And the reason I pause there is that Charlie, for all the time I’ve known him, has always been on the more conservative side that nothing too dramatic may happen. I mean maybe it will retreat, but it won’t retreat real fast, and he focuses more on the evidences of stability rather than the instability. But Bob, I know, was quickly of the mind that it was the ice shelf that was the cork, but the concern was the potential rise to sea level from the grounded West Antarctic Ice Sheet. So I think those were sort of the different pieces out there, and we felt like that the logical extension of the RISP project was the Siple Coast Project. So we have to study these ice streams that do feed the ice shelf. Now how did Ian Whillans come into this? He came from the top down because his early work had been Byrd station, stress-strain relationships of the grounded ice, but he was emerging as quite an active fieldworker and had some really good ideas about how the grounded ice moved.
He’s at Ohio State, right?
He was at Ohio State. He was one of Colin Bull’s students, along with Terry, and he stayed at Ohio State and got a professorship there. So he was a significant figure in glaciology then when I first came here, and of course Charlie Bentley was well established. Bob Thomas was well established. And I’m not sure how I got drawn into it; it’s fuzzy in my mind. Maybe just because I was with Bob Thomas when we were talking about this. I suppose the path was here I am, hired by NASA. I’m supposed to do an ice sheet model, but the most dynamic parts — The slow-moving, boring part of the ice sheet, Bill Budd already had the equations for that. But the things that we couldn’t really model were these ice streams. They had been sort of discovered through ice-penetrating radar, and Keith Rose had a seminal paper when Scott Polar Research Institute and the Technical University of Denmark and National Science Foundation — they had done a large-scale, but somewhat coarse, widely-spaced aerial mapping of West Antarctica, of at least the Siple Coast part of West Antarctica. Denmark had the radar. SPRI had the — what did they have? I don’t know what they had. I guess the glaciological expertise. David Drury was the scientist there, and NSF had the airplanes. I think Jay Zwally, during those days, early to mid ‘70s, was the program manager at NSF. He had a lot to do with getting the antennas fitted to the NSF airplanes, and then he came here after that. So he had sort of a connection to it, and maybe because I was trying to understand the flow of the ice streams and Bob Thomas was saying it’s all about the ice shelves and we were sharing an office together, we ended up being one of three proposals that went into NSF for this project that was focused on trying to understand the flow of the ice streams. We felt that the best approach would be to contrast this very active Ice Stream B, now Whillans, with the neighbor Ice Stream C, now Kamb, because Ice Stream C was known to have stagnated at some earlier point. It wasn’t flowing fast, but it had all the radar signatures of sheer margins that indicated that it had flowed fast in the past. So that made a nice contrast between those two apparently identical types of regimes, but one’s flowing, one’s not, for the sake of the fieldwork. And Ian Whillans was interested and Charlie Bentley was interested and Bob Thomas and I were interested. So we became the three sorts of kingpins of the first Siple Coast Project.
I’ve got to ask about the institutional context here because of course NASA is a huge organization and their interest in doing these kinds of studies, or what part of the organization its part of at that time or what larger project.
They weren’t the slightest bit interested in it [chuckles], and it was only because I think Bob Thomas was here and I was interested in the ice flow, because that’s sort of where I came from. That’s why Goddard got involved. In fact, it clearly was a case of having to swim upstream when it came down to me. I was the civil servant; Bob was the contractor. Looking forward a little bit, in the end Bob Thomas went off to another job in the U.K. with Rutherford Lab and just left me in the lurch because I had never run any project before.
So he didn’t go directly to headquarters, or was that —?
No, I’m pretty sure he went to the U.K. to work at the Rutherford-Appleton Lab. He was incommunicado, and I had this project dropped into my lap. Actually, I was offered the opportunity by Dick Cameron, who was the program manager at NSF in the glaciology program, to step away from this program if I wanted to. Either I could delay it a year; I could just let it go. Because I really was an unknown to anybody — I had no track record, never been to the Antarctic before, never done my own field project, and he was willing to let me out of this, let me off the hook. I said no. I said, “It’s important work to do.” I probably didn’t say no that cavalierly. But my project was responsible for the downstream portion of the ice stream where it fed into the ice shelf around the grounding line, whereas Ian and Charlie were planning to do their studies farther up, sort of in the center of the ice stream. So it was a tough time for me to pull together a field project in a place I’d never done with equipment I’d never touched. I understood theodolites. I’d never done leveling before. This was pre-GPS. They had these monstrosities of satellite positioning receivers built by Magnavox that wrote to tapes, little cassette tapes. They were big and they were big power hogs, and we had these tellurometers, which were distance-measuring devices that sent out a long-wavelength signal. You had lots of knobs and you had to have two people, each with earphones, and they would talk over this channel. Those didn’t work too well in the cold. I mean it really was pretty rudimentary, the types of equipment that we had. But I stuck with it. I got all the paperwork through Goddard. They didn’t even know what NSF stood for. We actually hired some people as short-term civil servants. It just was a bureaucratic mountain that I had to scale to get the field project prepared through the NASA channel. The only reason I could do it at all was because there is a presidential memorandum that allows NSF to fund somebody who is at a federal agency for Antarctic fieldwork because NSF is the lead agency or sole agency for U.S. field research in Antarctica. So if they find somebody in another federal agency that has unique characteristics that they feel are critical, they can support their research. That’s continued for all these years. It doesn’t make it easy for either side, but we’ve continued that. So in 1983, we went to the field.
So you’ve been here four years, then, at this point.
I guess I had been, yes. I’d done some Columbia Glacier modeling through that time, but pretty much wrapped that up, and then the focus became —.
You were working for Jay Zwally?
Yes. The organizational structure was, there was an ice group that was formed within a branch, and he was head of the ice group. So in that sense, essentially the money would come to him and he would dole it out.
OK. So the ice group is concerned with very broadly ice caps and sea ice?
Primarily sea ice. Most of the people, with sea ice, and we were doing a little bit of satellite altimetry, Jay, and I and Bob Thomas on the ice sheets, but just those two. There was somebody else in snow, but she wasn’t part of the ice group, I think. I’m pretty sure. She’s still here, too. After a while, the ice group just was dissolved organizationally as an organizational unit, but we just were merged back into the branch, which was the Oceans and Ice Branch. It was only fairly recently that that split into just oceans and ice as two separate units. So NASA was there in the field and I was in charge, and it went okay…. Jay was my field assistant because he wanted to go to Antarctica again. He had been there as program manager. There was some friction there because he had a very definite idea about how to do things, and felt I was junior although I was in charge, so he tried to lead from beneath but didn’t. Doug MacAyeal was with me. He was the one veteran we had from the Ross Ice Shelf Project. He was there, and I usually paired him with Jay because he was smart enough that Jay could respect him. I had a couple of students from Terry Hughes, some of his graduate students — John Scofield and Dean Lindstrom, and they were great. I had Matthew Sturm. How did they ever find Matthew? He was just a superb field person from Alaska. He was with us. So we had six of us, and we came together pretty well as a field team. We had three sites that we had to work on. One was in the mouth of Ice Stream B. Well, before we ever got out of McMurdo — For my team, Doug was the only one that had ever been in — doing Antarctic fieldwork. As I said, Jay had been to McMurdo as program manager. But we took this flight — Charlie Bentley, Ian Whillans, and myself as the three PIs — on a C-130 out to the Siple Coast because we had no good maps whatsoever. We had the Keith Rose map that indicated where the margins of the ice streams were in a lot of places. But satellite imagery it wasn’t being used yet. We really had very little to go on, and so we flew around looking for potential sites for our field camps. Each of us was going to have a site on Ice Stream B — me, down by the ground inline; the two of them, farther upstream. Each was going to have a site similarly, grounding line farther up on Ice Stream C, and I was going to have a third site on Crary Ice Rise, which was an ice rise that sat out in the mouth of Ice Stream B on the Ross Ice Shelf. Ian was going to have a site on the ridge between those two ice streams. But we didn’t have coordinates for these, and we went out there and it was really hard to see where the ice streams were. Navigation back in those days was really pretty crummy. You could easily be a kilometer off, which would still get you in the ice stream, but it was heavily crevassed, just all over the place. So we flew around and around and around, and we did pick out coordinates for their camp where it looked like there was a crevasse-free area. Down on the grounding line it was a little bit easier. There were more crevasse-free areas than crevassed areas. So we picked out a site down there. So we had coordinates for all the sites, and Ice Stream C essentially has no surface crevasses on it at all, so that was easier. So we came up with those coordinates, came back to McMurdo, set to go. We had a lot of equipment to take and we didn’t really know what we didn’t need, so we took a lot of stuff that we thought we might need in snowmobiles and fuel and it took two C130 loads to get my team in. Back in those days, the fuel put-ins were done by C130 and they would go out to a site and they would fly around. They’d do ski drags, and really beat up the airplane, but eventually they would land and you would offload. You’d have to set up your radio and make immediate radio contact with a permanent base, either South Pole or McMurdo, just so they knew that you could talk to them. Nowadays you even have to set up a tent and get a stove working, but back in those days, it was a little bit easier, I guess. But we did that and we got our field camp up, and we used James way huts for the main shelter. Charlie and Ian got into their site, and we did our work.
Were the groups, they were largely separated from each other?
Those two groups worked out of the same camp.
Okay, Bentley and Whillans?
Yes. Bentley had the focus on geophysics, so he was setting up geophones and doing seismic reflection and doing some conductivity and things like that. Ian was looking at putting out stakes and measuring the motion of the ice, how thick the ice is, stuff like that. I was not doing the geophysics where I was; we were just doing the glaciology, which in those days pre-GPS, you would have to do a sun shot to find out which way north was because we didn’t really know what the magnetic declination was for sure. Once you knew where north was, then you would use just line of sight. You’d use a Brunton compass to get a different azimuth to align, and you would be carefully set up. You’d have sort of the keystone stake that everything was referenced to, sort of the center of the compass rose, if you will. That was an inviolate stake in camp. Then you would measure out some angle. If you wanted to go 37º North on a particular line for some distance, you’d have to measure that off, put a pole out that lined up with the center pole at 37° North, and then you would just drive by snowmobile, read the odometer, and every half-kilometer, 1/3 of a mile, you would put in a stake. You’d get off your snowmobile. You’d line it up with the other stakes behind you, put in that stake, right dead in line with it, and then drive another 500 meters and do the same thing. It was remarkable. You could keep a really, really straight line that way, and you would look along this line and just see all the stakes. It was a lot of fun. It was a bit of a challenge, but once you got the technique down it was good. You’d go out in teams of two for safety. You’d be on the lookout for crevasses, but generally we were on lines that would not take us by crevasses. And every so often, you would place a survey pole and place that very carefully, dead vertical, measure its height. It was a pole that you could set up a tripod over, and you would set your theodolite then and you would measure angles from that place to different poles. That’s how we set up our strain grids and that would give relative motions of poles. Then we used our tellurometers for distances between these stakes. You could get distances down to, well, I’m going to say an inch. That would be pretty good, but about that kind of accuracy. We would also employ this Magnavox Doppler satellite receiving system. This is the pre-GPS. It read different information from a different set of satellites to solve a different set of equations to get position. You would record data on these cassette tapes, and all you would know is that you recorded data on the cassette tapes. You wouldn’t have the answer yet; you had to go back to your lab back home.
You couldn’t read it is what you’re saying.
No, no, no. They would read the data, solve equations, and get ephemeris information from some other source and then tell you where that antenna was at that time. We do level lines. We would have people carrying level rods and we would just measure very accurately the topography along a single line. And that was the kind of information that we were getting. So motion, but fairly crude. You’d have to go back the second year to measure where that pole went to, to know what its average speed was over that year. Topography would give us clues as to when it was still grounded, still in contact with the bed because it needs to be sloped a little bit, when it was freely floating because it would be flatter, and that boundary then is called the grounding line. So we’d try to map the grounding line that way. Sometimes you could actually see tiny cracks that are tidal cracks because one part’s going up and down and the other part isn’t. You could follow those for a while. So these were sort of the ways in which we collected the data that we did. It was hard to find the grounding line. We didn’t know anything about what we now call an ice plane, which is very lightly grounded ice. When the ice sheet flows off out of the central part of the ice sheet and it comes in contact with the water, it’s carrying sediment, eroding sediment, and that’s being dumped out on the sea bed. The ice is sitting on that, just lightly sitting on that. It has a slope that’s almost zero. For the longest time, we thought that we were on floating ice. We had tide gauges. We had tilt meters that would very accurately read just the slightest little bit of a tilt, and we used those to help confirm that there was something floating and there was something that was fixed, so that as the tide would go up and down, the tilt meter would read the fact that it was tilting. Where we thought the grounding line was, it wasn’t. Then we went looking all over the place for the grounding line; didn’t really know where it was, and eventually found it downstream at Crary Ice Rise. So we went into the field in those early Siple Coast days with a number of preconceived notions about the dynamics of the ice sheet. I think we were more strongly influenced by “this is an ice sheet that flows like an ice sheet with a few little nuances to it.” I think now we’ve come, not full circle, but swung to the other side where these actually behave more like glaciers than they do your big, slow, cold ice sheet. But that’s sort of, quite a leap forward to get to that awareness. It took a long time to get there.
I was interested looking over your papers. You had one in 1983 in the Journal of Glaciology where you do a comparison between mountain glaciers and then you throw in, I think it was Ice Stream B in there. I was interested in that sort of initial impulse to look at them in a similar way.
Well, what’s the publication date on that?
I have it listed as number three there. [Hands him the publication list]
‘83, OK. Well, it was about that time that… I mentioned this Chapman Conference. I’ve got the journal. Let me find out when that was. [Goes to get the proceedings.] That was really a seminal moment because this Chapman Conference was convened by Gary Clarke, and was called “Fast Glacial Flow”. It’s ‘87. I think the conference itself may have been ‘85. [Returns to desk.] It brought together people that studied surging glaciers, people that studied tidewater glaciers, people that were studying ice streams. So all these things go fast. Do they go fast for similar reasons or different reasons? Let’s exchange information. Because prior to that, with the exception of a few crossover people, those communities were separate. It was noted that I was the only one that had really done research in all three areas. Not that I knew any secrets that anybody else didn’t know, but that statement served to underscore how separated those communities were. You know the Raymonds and Kambs, they were still doing mountain glaciers, and the Meiers were still doing tidewater and Whillanses and Bentleys and now Bindschadlers were doing ice streams. We got together, and I think that was the important thing that we got together. We didn’t come up with any revelations, but Charlie started to look at ice streams and “what do you know about ice streams?” And I remember giving a talk about Ice Stream B and C and saying that Ice Stream C can switch on and switch off, and he stopped me and said, “How do you know it ever switches back on? I understand you know it switched off, but…” So questions like that were coming from outside the community that really probed us to rethink some of the notions that I think we just held sort of as postulates, not hypotheses. I think that’s also when Charlie got interested in ice streams, Barclay Kamb got interested in ice streams. I got more interested back in tidewater glaciers, which I think is relevant when it comes to Greenland, but that’s not what we’re talking about. We started, I think, to see ice streams more as glaciers, not appendages of ice sheets. Ian Whillans had made — Because this earlier notion of ice streams are just parts of ice sheets, ice sheets are very definitely controlled by the basal stresses, and I think that concept was winning out, much to the chagrin of Bob Thomas, who was still pushing, “No, it’s all about the ice shelf buttressing the land ice, and the land ice is going to go as fast as the ice shelf will let it go.” We were saying, “No, it’s local stresses. You can get rid of the ice shelf and the land ice is not going to care. It’s not going to go any faster.” So the pendulum really had swung completely away from Bob Thomas’s view. It was that basal stress that mattered. The local stress holds the ice stream back and doesn’t let it go any faster than what it’s going. Then Ian Whillans came along and said, “Whoa. Let’s look at this again,” because he was looking at the sides, and we just felt like the sides couldn’t matter because these ice streams are about 1 kilometer thick, but they can be 30, 40, 50 kilometers wide. So the real geometry is like this: you’ve got this huge bed under here that has really weak till, water saturated, but it’s so huge that little sides can’t possibly matter that much. He stood the community completely on its end by making measurements of the sheer across these margins from where it’s going fast to where it’s going slow, and calculated that the whole force sort of pushing the ice stream down into the ice shelf is — most of that resistive stress is right here at the margins, and the bed is so wet and slippery and sloppy, it’s not providing any resistance.
But this is not something you find about until a little bit later, right, that the bed is so slippery?
Yes. I mean it came through that, and it might have even been after the Chapman Conference. But it was really quite a revelation that there was enough resistive stress just at these fairly thin margins that were widely separated. Ian Whillans was always a great one at even arguing with himself. I mean he could wake up the next day and just completely contradict what he had said the day before, but for sound reasons. He was always good at sort of digging down deep to the fundamental reasons for thinking one way or another. So I wasn’t willing to make that change yet; I was still thinking the bed matters. But we had discounted the ice shelf, so it was really all those three players. I was in the process of — We’d done a lot of fieldwork on B and C. Let’s see, what had we found out? Around Crary Ice Rise, it looked like — Doug MacAyeal came into this because we have measurements of how they — What was the influence of Crary Ice Rise on Ice Stream B? We have measurements of the velocity around the side, and there were a lot of crevasses. Did that isolate Crary Ice Rise or not? Doug did the best work there, I think, when he introduced the concept of form drag and some other kind of drag that captured the notion that even the fact that the ice stream can easily get around Crary Ice Rise, the fact that it has to is something called form drag and its presence matters. So he did some nice work there. He’s always sort of stayed with the ice shelf notion. He was Bob Thomas’s student, and had sound numerical models of ice shelves, and he would make a nice stream like an ice shelf just by adding a little bit of resistive stress on the side. But he was really just modifying his ice shelf model to make something appear, like an ice stream appear, and that seemed to work pretty well. So that influence of Crary Ice Rise was important, but he did a pretty good job of understanding and matching observations, getting back to this notion of what makes a good model, matching the observations that all these groups had been collecting just by considering an ice stream as pretty much an ice shelf — no friction along the beds because an ice shelf doesn’t have any friction at the bed, it’s sitting in the water, and just having some resistance at the sides. So he jumped on Ian’s notion and was — So the pendulum, it wasn’t sort of two axes going away from ice shelf buttressing to local stresses, but it was swinging off in the direction of the bed doesn’t matter anymore. Ice shelves don’t matter and it’s all the sides.
It seems to me like the mid ‘80s is really just a period of incredible flux in ideas and so what should be paid attention to and what matters?
Yes, yes. It definitely was. Then we had done some good mapping of the Siple Coast with satellite imagery. Worked with John Kelmelis and Fred Brownworth at the USGS, where John Kelmelis had the idea, “Let’s put together Landsat images and make a map.” Because Jerry Mullins had been with us, if not in the very first flight out there to the Siple Coast, soon after. He was an aerial photogramatrist, and just superb at operating an aerial camera to get subtle details, which is what we needed out there. There was some good aerial mapping done. Some of the early work that we did, Ian in particular was putting up photo targets. Henry Brecher was a person at Ohio State that was just a superb technician when it comes to aerial photogrametry. So with his guidance, we figured that we had to put black plastic squares so big by so big and get them staked out there so they didn’t disappear in the high winds and they lasted long enough for the camera to get pictures. They did some mapping that way so they could track individual crevasses and get velocity fields that way and stream fields. Patricia Vornberger was at Ohio State. She’s been with me for many, many years now working on the imagery, but that was sort of what she also worked on early on with these, piecing together these aerial photographs and these strips where there were some panels of photo targets, and mapping out the features, mapping out the strips, they could get the velocity and strain fields — again just to gather the basic information of how an ice stream moves, how much it moves uniformly and what scale and variations there are in the flow. We were trying to do that then. Aerial photographs was a hard way to do it because the features were so subtle that Jerry was really challenged to get the f-stop right and it was just really hard, and getting clear weather to fly was hard. Because he was USGS, I think that was why John Kelmelis, who was Jerry’s boss at the time said, “Well, would imagery help?” So we got into imagery, and I sort of took to that technique. We didn’t have Landsat imagery far enough south to cover the south half of C or B, but we did have for D and E. I said the Siple Coast is all those ice streams, and although we have B and C that we’ve been studying in a detailed way in the field, can we study D and E with satellite imagery and actually learn a lot from satellite data? Then I was getting more NASA-ish in my way of thinking, and not have to do similar field projects there. So we made some image maps, and then from image maps we went to the extent of repeat imagery to get motion measured by satellites, and again, measuring displacements of crevasses. When I did that, Ted Scambos was here as a contractor, and he was instrumental in getting that code up and working. We mapped the velocity field of D and E with satellite imagery, and it countered this view. The reason for telling this is it countered this view of “the bed is all sloppy wet and doesn’t matter. It’s just almost the same as an ice shelf and it’s the edges that matter because if that’s true, then you have the sort of uniform motion. It’s only the sides that hold it back.” But we found that on D, in particular, there are lots of variations in the velocity here. So there had to be stickier places on the bed that were holding it back in some places and allowing it to go faster in others. So it was a very complex pattern of flow, and that sort of brought the pendulum back from “It’s only the edges that matter,” back to “No, the bed matters, too.” So it wasn’t easy. It was a combination of the two. Then, I’m trying to think of what sort of the seminal thing was that swung it back towards “ice shelves matter” again. I think there, there were two things. One was the observations, not of Siple Coast but of Pine Island Glacier, where, again, satellite data were showing that the Pine Island Glacier, in particular, but Thwaites also and some of the other glaciers, was thinning rapidly from altimetry, accelerating from other satellite data, and the grounding line was retreating from interferometric SAR [Synthetic Aperture Radar] — just a whole slew of papers on Pine Island Glacier. But the bottom line was the spatial signature of all these changes was such that the big change was right at the coast, and it decayed to smaller, lesser magnitudes inland. But it clearly was something that was not coming from the inside, the landward side out to the ocean, but was happening at the ocean’s edge happening inward. So we know the ice shelf is getting thinner, and we’ve returned by that path to saying ice shelves really matter.
Ice shelf in Pine Island Bay? It’s a small one, right?
It has a small ice shelf that sticks out into the bay. That was certainly a push to the pendulum back to “ice shelves matter”. In the Antarctic Peninsula, we had that natural experiment with Larsen B just disintegrating and disappearing. Crane and Green glaciers had been well monitored before, during, and since, and they definitely accelerated. So that said “ice shelf buttressing matters”. And then finally, we had this other revelation of tidal modulation of ice stream speed. That was on the Siple Coast, and that was led by Sridhar Anandakrishnan, who looked at GPS data he collected. I’ll talk more about GPS in a minute, but by then, we’re already into the ‘90s, late ‘90s.
I was just trying to follow along with the papers. So you have a paper in Science with Ted Scambos on “the satellite image-derived velocity field of an Antarctic ice stream.” That’s ‘91.
Yes. That was the first use of sequential Landsat data to get ice motion — well, to get it not just in a few isolated places. It had been used before. It would pick a few points to go “Okay, that’s the velocity of that glacier”. We used it in “let’s get a whole bunch of points and see if we can get not just the velocity of the glacier, but the velocities of the glacier and how there is strain being built up by faster moving areas and slower moving areas.” That’s what we did with that paper, and then he had another paper that he was first author on and it really discussed the details of the technique. Then, ultimately, we had this big paper on the velocity and mass balance of Ice Streams D and E with a whole bunch of people on it that really showed the complexity over that whole ice stream, the complexity of flow. I think that probably was the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. “Surface velocity and mass balance ice stream B”…
It’s possible this [publication list] isn’t complete, too.
Ah, it should be on there. I can tell you if you want to know. So this is picking up this other revelation about the tidal modulation. There should be a paper in ‘03 or something, ‘03 or ‘05, stick-slip motion, but that was preceded by work by Anandakrishnan, who had GPS receivers on Ice Stream D. When he analyzed those data, he didn’t just look for an average velocity. He broke them down into time intervals less than a day, and much to his amazement, he discovered that as the tide went up and down, the ice stream sped up and slowed down and sped up and slowed down and sped up and slowed down. He presented that at a meeting here in a glaciology meeting over at the University of Maryland in a poster, and he just got all kinds of grief, from me included. We had him cornered. We said, “Sridhar, you’re out of your mind. This can’t possibly be right. Why’d you put this on a poster? I mean it’s bad data analysis. RrrrRrrrRrrrRrrr.” He just had a whole crowd just force — and Sridhar is a confident guy. He said, “No, I think it’s right. I think it’s right. What if it is right?” So he went back and had somebody else analyze the data. Same result. Yes, it did slow down and speed up and slow down and speed up. We were just awestruck. Not by a little bit — by 50%. It would go sort of 150% of its annual speed and then only 50% and then 150% just every day as the tide was going up and down. So I looked at some other GPS data I had collected a couple of years earlier in the mouth of Whillans and gave it to the same GPS guy and said, “Analyze this the same way. See if we do the same.” And Matt King is the GPS wizard, and he came back and said, “You’re not going to believe this, but it’s even more-weird: it stops and it goes really fast and it stops and then it goes really fast.” So it’s what we called stick-slip motion, and it remains the most radical manifestation of this tidal modulation yet. Other people have looked at their favorite ice streams and outlet glaciers around Antarctica for this and we see it all the time to various degrees. It depends on the size of the tide, the magnitude of the tide and the phasing of the tide. Sometimes diurnal, sometimes semi-diurnal is the primary mode of the tide. But you always see some influence. So this literally just this big ice shelf going up and down that much in Whillans stops the ice stream. It doesn’t move for 18 hours, and then as the tide falls, the ice shelf comes down about that much. The ice stream picks up speed and in just a couple of minutes, it’s going really fast. It does it for 20 minutes, and then it stops. So it starts to fall, and you have this stick.
So it’s triggered by the actual change rather than the level.
Yes. And then it stops and the tide continues to fall, and when it reaches its bottom it happens again, and then stops and the tide comes back up. It goes through this bizarre cycle. Which to me underscores how delicate the balance of force this is. Because, okay, it’s a big ice shelf, but where the tide is really going up and down that much is way out in the front — I mean hundreds of miles away from the ice stream. The ice shelf right by the ice stream goes up and down a fair fraction of that meter, but it’s just a meter! It’s how thick? It’s hundreds of meters thick. It’s probably 700, 800 meters thick, and it still boggles my mind that it could have that kind of strong influence. It says something about the forces. It’s changing the forces a little bit and getting a big change. All this other stuff, the resistive forces up stream, that basal sheer upstream, that’s not changing at all. So the ice shelf is just doing this little thing, and the ice stream is listening big time. So that, too. So all these things made Bob Thomas of course very happy because ice shelves matter again, and so it really is all of these things, and you can’t get away from any of them. The WAIS workshops happened through all of this time, so I guess I also want to talk about GPS and the WAIS workshops and Hal Borns. I dare not leave him out. The WAIS workshops were happening, and when we first — Well, let me talk about Hal Borns first. We had the Siple Coast project, and Dick Cameron was the program manager for glaciology at NSF, and he was supporting this. We were getting some large investments and research dollars. A lot of that was going into buying these receivers, and GPS was just starting to come online and we were using that. Dick Cameron left, and I don’t know if Hal Borns immediately succeeded him or not. I think so, just on a temporary basis; he was there two, three years as the Glaciology Program Manager.
Now we’re way back in the early ‘80s?
This was the mid ‘80s, well actually late ‘80s. The Siple Coast project was well underway and we were discovering lots of things about the bed through Bentley’s geophysics and geophysics of his students Blankenship and… Don Blankenship is somebody I hope you’ll talk to. They’d just more and more weird every season’s work as we went down there through those first few years. It became very, very clear that the bed really mattered, that maybe the ice shelf was mattering. So the ocean might matter. Stan Jacobs was always out there waving the flag that the ocean matters. It melts the ice shelf from underneath; it tickles the edge of the grounded ice sheet. In the larger science community, the Bretherton Report was out. Earth System Science was all the rage, certainly here within NASA.
Yes, I wanted to ask you about that, too.
I can’t remember the timing so specifically, but I do remember that it was this concept of a connected system, and increasing awareness and appreciation of the fact that there are connections and the interfaces really matter. I think that strongly influenced certainly my view of Antarctica, the West Antarctic, and the fact that we had this coupled system. How do changes in accumulation rate — how does that really come into play? The ice coring, they wanted to get into West Antarctica. They’d had great success in Greenland. So we were reading in the surface features that go way out on the ice shelf, past history of the ice sheet, seeing big folds in these features that for a stable ice sheet should be dead straight — you know, curved but linear. We’d see folds in that; we couldn’t understand it at all. But it certainly expressed the notion that the flow pattern of the ice sheet had changed significantly in the past. The Earth System Science, it’s a connected system. It’s not just about the ice. Clearly the bed’s involved, too. We were trying to get other Antarctic scientists from other disciplines engaged in the Siple Coast project, and we had these Siple Coast meetings as add-ons to the Midwest Glaciology Meetings where we tried to emulate the Pacific Northwest Glaciology Meeting. That was called MGM, Midwest Glaciology Meeting, and we would have what we called MGM Plus because the three groups started with myself and Charlie Bentley and Ian Whillans would get together and talk about field plans, because more and more was happening out there, we needed more and more logistic resources, and NSF was having a harder and harder time delivering all that we wanted. We wanted to go more places, do more things on a more and more complex schedule. They just turned it over to us and said, “Okay, we can have 50 flights out there. You tell us who’s going where, when, and how they interact.” Because we were so collaborative at that point that we had no problem, in fact we had a need that a group would come in and then before they left, another group with different expertise would have to come in and sort of use the same stakes and get their measurements in the same network. Then the first group could leave or part of the group could leave, they would go somewhere else. You know, it was just getting more complex. So we had these MGM Plus meetings, and we would sit down and say, “What do we want to do next season and how can we best schedule it? What’s the timetable?” We would work with NSF and do that. So we were getting a lot of science for the invested dollar and the flights that were available to us. So I think there was already a sound foundation for collaboration and cooperation, but we needed some other expertise that we didn’t have, and they were not coming to our glaciology meetings. So a radical notion was put out there when I was talking to Hal Borns, who by then had become the program manager for glaciology, that what we needed to do was end the Siple Coast project, just draw it to a close, and start with a conversation about “Okay, it really is multi-disciplinary. What do we do? What are the questions that bring us all together and are broad enough and deep enough that everybody in these other disciplines that we feel are so essential to the broader topic feel vested in this project?” So that was the SeaRISE workshop in 1990, and it started with I think the year before… I was the one who was organizing the Siple Coast project workshops at that stage. I said, “We are going to have one final Siple Coast workshop. We are going to pronounce the project finished so everybody knows that we’re done with that.” It was more sort of a psychological step because we knew the science wouldn’t stop, but we did it so we could set the stage then for this SeaRISE workshop. It didn’t have a name, actually, initially. I think in fact it was just West Antarctic — I don’t know what the name of the workshop was.
Well, I think it actually was SeaRISE workshop. I just have the listed participants printed out from your report from it.
The only reason I pause there is that it was at the workshop that Barclay Kamb came up with SeaRISE as an acronym: Sea Level Response to Ice Sheet Evolution. He came up with it during one of the breaks at the workshop, so I don’t know why we would have called it SeaRISE before, other than it may have been all caps. It could have been all caps, and he just came up with a nice set of words that fit.
Well, this is the report, and it’s possible it’s a post-hoc application.
Yes. So that’s why I’m not sure. I have documents; I could ferret it out. The ground rules were there’s no science project. We brought together who we felt were the best Antarctic scientists at the time in all sorts of disciplines. We said, “What is it about the Antarctic that makes us relevant in the context of Earth System Science?” Because Earth system science definitely had taken root by then, and it was pervasive at NSF.
Is it sort of a government-organizing principle or is it broader than that yet? Because I know I’ve seen some NASA reports, just promotional literature on it.
It was government-wide. It was not just NASA, definitely not. I mean NASA — the Bretherton Report is a NASA report, but the notion was broader and other agencies, if they weren’t there at the origin of it, they were quick to the party. So it had permeated NSF definitely. I mean really, the outgrowth of the Bretherton Report is the U.S. Global Change Research Program. That’s what evolved from it, and that is multi-agency. But it was the compelling concept then, so I distinctly remember that we posed this workshop’s goal in terms of that question, “What is it about Antarctica that makes us relevant to Earth system science?” We discussed a lot of things, but what really stood well above any of the other questions that tended to be single-discipline specific was the potential rise to sea level from the potentially unstable West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Everybody galvanized their thoughts around that concept. So we had it, and said, “Okay, there it is. What’s our objective to quantify that?”
See, this is very interesting, and I’d like to go into it in a bit more detail because the history of arranging research around this project. I’m actually scheduled to give a talk on this question this fall on one of the History of Science conferences. So I know that it’s in 1978 that Mercer comes out with his second paper. I like to think of him as the deus ex machina who appears every once in a while to prompt things, because he’s not at all involved in it. You’ll never find his name except for these two papers. So there’s a ‘78 one which spurs, I think it’s Thomas, Anderson, and Rose’s response to that, and the Thomas and Bentley papers come out around that same time, and that’s where the CO2 question first comes up. He mentions it; he actually mentions it in ‘68, but nobody pays any attention whatsoever. It resurfaces in ‘78, and from that point, there is sort of a group of people who are sort of centrally concerned with this general question, and they have a conference in 1980 in Orono. Bentley is there obviously, Hughes and Denton. And there were a series of conferences throughout the 1980s until you get to 1990 when the WAIS initiative begins and also the IPCC process begins. So this 1980s period is extremely interesting because everything seems in flux. The conferences are sponsored—I don’t know if sponsored is the right word, but the Department of Energy is involved and then of course ICSU and the Polar Research Board have their —
Yes. I was at the Orono meeting. It happened soon after I got here. It actually sort of probably brought my attention straight to West Antarctica and ice streams and that whole issue. And I had forgotten that, but I remember distinctly that meeting.
There was a meeting in West Virginia in ‘83.
Didn’t go to that one. Then there was sort of the Jakobshavn meeting that Hans Weertman had in Northwestern, but that was more sort of Greenland, Jakobshavn; what does it tell us about basal sliding, but I already had sort of an Antarctic slant to my focus then. So when we’re talking about West Antarctica, there still was this notion that it was potentially unstable, and I think far less connected to the CO2 issue. I think that continued all the way through the first IPCC report, because I remember talking to Hans Oerlemans about this IPCC report and the fact that sea level was…
Yes, he’s the author, right, on the sea level rise chapter [of the IPCC assessment], the first one?
Right, and that there is no mention, no mention whatsoever of West Antarctica. Maybe there’s a mention of ice sheets, but it’s only in a way to discount them entirely. He said that their charge was 100-year in the future focus, and on that time scale, ice sheets don’t matter; certainly dynamics of ice sheets don’t matter, and that was where we were. There was no sort of trigger within that timeframe that would cause there to be a change, certainly no dramatic change, in the ice sheets, and that’s how that first report states it. So five years later, there was recognition that West Antarctica was a high risk, low potential event coming from West Antarctica. But it was always predicated on this marine ice instability being triggered somehow, and I think as much as any other trigger was conceived, it would be just an internal trigger [i.e., not a response to climate change].
That certainly Hughes’s point, I think to this day, is that he’s most concerned about this being the end of the last ice age.
Yes, that warmth getting down to the bed finally and softening that ice enough that it really pushes it past some threshold.
And so the comparison for him is St. Lawrence and Hudson Bay, I think, because for him, everything is about his CLIMAP project with Denton and what it reveals about what still exists, the Last Great Ice Sheets as you know.
Well, I have to tell you. At the Orono meeting, Denton gave one of the first talks right after all the introductory fluff, and we had a recorder to record it there because they wanted to record the meeting.
Yes, I have the transcript.
Oh, you do? But you don’t have Denton’s, I don’t think.
No, because Denton requested that it not be included.
Because he spoke so fast that the recorder stopped him and said, “Could you slow down?” and so he tried. But then he rapidly got up to Denton speed, and the recorder slowed him down again, stopped him again and said, “I can’t keep up. Sorry. Could you slow down some?” Denton tried one more time. The recorder stopped him one more time and said, “I can’t keep up.” He said, “Well, then don’t record it because I can only talk this one speed.” [Chuckles] But then yes, they captured the rest of it. So the potential and internal — The internal instability was held on to by some to this day, as you say. But that’s a minority view now, I think, and it’s because of the observations of what’s going on, being such dramatic rates of change, and clear to most of us that it’s not being triggered by anything internal, but external forces. But the marine ice sheet instability, I think, still holds sway with a lot of us. We’re not sure exactly how it’s going to play out, and I think most people would agree that we don’t have sufficient model — credible model representations of enough of the important physics that we can say or illustrate or quantify how it’s going to play out. But that’s actually the thing that concerns me the most is that weak underbelly located, ocean-triggered, rapid evacuation of ice is what we’re going to experience. I tend to be at least as concerned about Greenland, and my focus — It’s tidewater glacier, folks. I mean you ought to study all the tidewater glacier stuff because that’s where the key to predicting the future of the Greenland Ice Sheet rests is with tidewater glaciers. But it’s a little bit different in Antarctica. I think it’s an ice shelf buttressed system, and I think Bob was right all along. So Hal Borns, yes, and that workshop — that was fundamental to WAIS. It really laid the groundwork. It posed the question that we came back to again and again. In the early years of WAIS, because we wanted to join arms with the ice coring community, we came up with a second question that was tied to the paleoclimatic information. I can’t remember exactly how we phrased it, but it’s a question that can only be answered through analysis of ice coring and is there a connection, is there a global signal tied to what the ice cores found in Greenland? But it was an explicit attempt to give a post to which the ice core could hitch their wagon. It took a little bit of effort because Pieter — They were riding high at that stage after the Greenland success, and they didn’t feel like they needed ice dynamics folks for anything other than a little bit of knowledge when it comes to locating their ice core. They wanted to find a spot where ice dynamics didn’t matter, and we kept talking about shifting ice divides. There is no place where the — It’s always been an ice divide, so you need us, you need us. But Pieter Grootes was less interested in that and felt like we would be more a burden. Then he stepped aside, and the head of the ice core working group, I think it was called, became Jim White, and Jim was far more open. He said, “Yes, let’s collaborate. Let’s pose a question that allows us to come underneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet umbrella,” and he was fine with that. Actually, I think it was to their benefit because they couldn’t parlay their success in Greenland to a continuation of ice coring activities and they had a dry spell there for a while.
This is the ‘90s now after the initiative began.
Yes, yes. So this is the mid-’90s.
We’re jumping around a little bit, so I’m trying to keep track.
Yes, I’m sorry to do that because things lop off here and there. Different neurons firing in a different order. But ultimately, their path back into the West Antarctic ice core that’s being drilled now was drilling Siple Dome, and that was a question directly tied to the dynamics and the dynamic history of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. You know, was that dome overridden? Terry Hughes and CLIMAP will say, “No, they haven’t overridden,” but the analysis from the dome seems to indicate that there always was a dome there. So it doesn’t quite fit Terry’s view of the West Antarctic history. I think it’s quite critical to have had that ice core drilled there, but that allowed there to be the marriage of those two fairly major efforts. So they came into WAIS. I would say WAIS itself, after that formative workshop — felt we had to get together every so often, so we had annual workshops. There was no sort of innovative structure to it in the first couple of years. We just had some talks, but from people that usually didn’t get together. We thought we were communicating. We were each sort of addressing that central question of what is the potential contribution to future sea level. But, you know, you get so deep in your own terminology and you’re not really understood by people outside your discipline. I think it wasn’t until a couple of years of those workshops, maybe that second one, but certainly by the third one, I remember conversations with people that were along the lines of “I can finally start to understand what you (blank) — glaciologists or meteorologist or oceanographers — are talking about.”
Yes, these are the attendees from the ‘92 meeting. That was the last one I pulled.
Mm-hmm [yes]. It was a revelation to a number of people that we could start to understand each other. Although we thought we had been in the previous years, we really hadn’t been. It was only starting to sink in. So it was having gone through that process that I became more attuned to the fact that we really have to put some effort into simplifying our message for the sake of the other people in the audience. I mean the glaciologists listening to my talks, they’d see me at some glaciology conference, but I was really more speaking to the — I should be speaking more to all the non-glaciologists in the audience. That led to me starting to identify these focus questions that has turned out — And having a lot more time for just conversation wrapped around posters all fell together. That format fell out of that feeling that we had to have more time to talk in smaller groups without PowerPoints where somebody could say, “I don’t understand that. Explain it to me,” without stopping somebody in the middle of a 15-minute talk. And focusing on particular questions that would allow different disciplinary perspectives of that question, so there wouldn’t be a morning that was just pure glaciology and in the afternoon there was pure oceanography or marine geophysics, but we could try to get questions that had facets that related to these different disciplines and mix up those disciplines in the schedule more. Ian Whillans made a comment one time. Because, sometimes there was a workshop where I had to interject some other talks in there. Somebody would cancel and toss somebody else in there, and it led to a mixture of disciplines. And Ian said, “I really like that because we’re not stuck in one discipline for two hours.” So those kinds of comments I think I was able to take and mold into the type of schedule that we have in the workshops. Once it did, it was a big success. Everybody really liked that format, so that happened within the first few years. I got tired of it and felt like I had done enough of it. I turned it back over to Hal Borns sort of as a leader, and the workshops didn’t happen. So I realized I couldn’t quite let it go because I knew the workshops had to happen, and we missed a year. I said that was really bad because that communication is so important because that group doesn’t get together without it. So I took it back and everybody that ever mentioned it to me was always pleased that I did because we returned to that format and had a regular workshop and as regular a place as we could. People could put it on their calendar, count on it, bring their students, and it really has turned out to serve the community well for a number of reasons. Let’s see, I also wanted to say that… oh, shoot, it got away from me again. There was one thing about those workshops. There was one other aspect; I can’t pull it out, aw geez, my mind’s getting too stiff. [Cross-talk] But the workshops have been quite critical, I think. Oh, I remember what it was. This was a couple of years in. Why did they have to do this? Oh yes, those damn science plans. Geez.
Yes, you mentioned those the first time I spoke to you, actually.
Yes. Okay, so NSF was pushing us for a coordinated plan. They had this thing called this initiative. Well, what is it? We don’t have any document. Give us a document. So we wrote the science and implementation plan. Let’s see. Oh, we had that formative workshop where we did the question, got our name, did all that great stuff. And then the next time we met it was here and we had the sort of state-of-the-art talks. So Ian Whillans talked about glaciology and Stan Jacobs talked about oceanography and David Bromwich talked about meteorology and John Anderson talked about marine geophysics. We had that here in an awful auditorium, but we published those results as a workshop report, and I think those were NASA tech memos back in those days.
Yes, you have a working group and a set of participants kind of delineated out. I think this is from the document you’re talking about.
All right, yes. If you don’t have copies of these, I may have. I know I have one. I never threw away the last copy of anything. I’ve got them in a drawer over there. But we had these sort of overview talks that were intended to be “This is the state of the science right now,” and to use that as a basis from which — I think also at that same workshop. Yes, “This is what we know. What are the remaining questions, more detailed, than just that single umbrella question, and what do we have to do to accomplish that?” That led to the science and implementation plan, sort of teasing all the sub-questions out. So we did have a science and implementation plan. It was painful to write as they always are, but we had it, and we rested on that laurel for quite a while.
Is the funding kind of increasing as we go along?
No. I mean we never had much funding sort of central to this.
I mean I guess for the entire research program in Antarctica.
We struggled. There was no — From the science — We were hoping there to be, and the science and implementation plan was a step in the process that NSF is most comfortable with where you bring together a community, you pose an issue and what’s needed to address it, and then they can take that and drum up support for it within the foundation, put out a call for proposals, and then those proposals come in much from the same people addressing pretty much the same questions. But it’s a way of building a program. So we were on that path, and we put together the science and implementation plan with specific sub-questions and specific field and data analysis activities that would have to take place to answer that question. It had a timeline of about five years with ample funding, ten years without. So we put it out there in that report that it would take ten years max to answer this question of what is the potential contribution to sea level [from]WAIS. So we didn’t get any increase in funding, but people’s projects sort of continued to proceed. And of course we discovered new things every single season, so we drifted more and more from the science and implementation plan as it was written, but I mean we had dollars. We didn’t have names named, but we had Herc [C-130 Hercules aircraft] hours that were needed and Twin Otter [aircraft] hours and ship time. Really, it was laid out in quite a bit of detail. And as those plans go, you don’t even get to them the first milestone in the way you planned it. So funding just continued on; there was no new funding. But I think it probably got some more attention because of that, and after a while, it was an albatross because they wanted it revised and I didn’t want to undertake the same task. It did get revised later on and it needs revision again, but not so much with a detailed implementation but at least the science. When we had our own Chapman Conference way down the road, there again was an attempt to sort of put together our state of knowledge of the West Antarctic. But in those early years, it may have been part of that same — It was after that process, and I think it was in this attempt to try to get additional funding. We were asked to prioritize a bit, and that’s something that I wasn’t sure we could do. For all these things that we wanted to do, if there was limited funding, what do we recommend coming first? That was about three years down the road, and it was a meeting that I remember distinctly because we were able to prioritize. Ian Whillans would say, “The project that I’m doing right now is not as important as the project that Dave Bromwich wants to do, and this is why.” And somebody else would say the same thing about, “I think that Dr. X’s project is more important than Dr. Y’s or mine because of such and such.” And I was just stunned. I had to stop the meeting and say, “This is unbelievable what’s happening that we understand each other’s science enough to value that science above our own.” I said I wanted to stop everything and make note of that, because I think for the building of this community that is just a remarkable moment. So we basked in our interim glory there for a while and then we moved on. It didn’t really change the program financially or intellectually, so we didn’t garner any additional funds as a result of that exercise, but we were going along pretty well. I mean we had enough active projects that we were learning stuff as we went. We never did get the big bucket of money dumped on us that we were hoping for, and as the science has unfolded, I mean the science has just been satisfying and gratifying in its own right because it’s been so intriguing the way it’s unfolded. But we still don’t have that question answered. And jumping down the road a ways, it wasn’t until the meeting in Pack Forest a couple years ago that a comment by Eric Steig reminded me that we had lost our way. We’d lost our way in the sense that we weren’t always asking ourselves, “Okay, that’s great science, but does it help us answer that big question that we posed so many years ago?” I’ve thanked him multiple times for just asking that question because it’s brought my focus back to that question. And we were just all over the map just sort of anything went as long as it was West Antarctica. I would have the focus questions during the workshop, and our discussion often would be focused on “how does this relate to the big question?” But everybody was off doing their own science and there was no implicit or explicit attempt to try to bring them back, influence what science they were actually doing or about to propose to do, make sure that that feeds that WAIS objective, not just their own interest, wherever that interest may be at the moment. So I guess it’s a bit of an admission on my part that having had that Eric Steig-assisted epiphany, I feel like we have to get back to that question, and the workshops since then have sort of had a heavy dose of that. But I’m also ready to give it up and the new SeaRISE project, the modeling activity, is intended to, in my mind, internally, or maybe emotionally and intellectually, bring WAIS to a point where it can say we took a swat at that question. And if WAIS wants to continue as anything it wants to continue as, that’s fine. I’m ready to turn it over. 20 years I think is long enough, and if it has merit, it will continue, either as a program or just as a community that gets together once a year for a workshop. That’s fine. It can determine what it wants to do, but I’m not going to drive it. But I couldn’t let it go without having something like the SeaRISE modeling activity that will publish numbers that IPCC is going to be able to use, because that is what it really was all about from the beginning. I can’t let it go until it gets there, and I wish I didn’t have to sort of push all the modelers. I’m like I’m not really the one to do that, I think, but I guess I’m doing it. I feel like it has to be done, so I’ll take that part of WAIS so I can keep that sort of under my wing and make sure it gets to where I think it needs to get to and where the rest of the community goes. I’ll just be a voice, but I’m not going to be the driver of it. So there are a lot of good years in there where, okay, we maybe weren’t as strongly focused on that objective. I think we were, but it wasn’t strongly focused; we allowed a lot under the umbrella. I don’t know that we would be any better off if we had done it differently. It’s hard to say, sort of impossible to say, because we’ve always been pretty open. I think that’s been a real important thing, and the fact that we don’t have a lot of money may actually have been a benefit, allow it to stay pretty open because we didn’t have a whole lot to give other than just our community and that format of the workshop. It’s… yes. There have been those who have said, “Done West Antarctica long enough. It’s time to go to East Antarctica,” and I’ve always resisted that because unless it’s based on a scientific reason, it doesn’t make sense to me. The basic interest in West Antarctica is the same as it was how many years ago? 25 years ago, or you can even go back to long before the Bindschadler days. It’s still the same. It still holds that same importance, and heightened anyway as much as anything based on recent behavior. You know, when it comes to my own project right now, looking at Pine Island glacier and the interaction of the ocean on that ice shelf, I’ve never been involved in a project that is in more urgent need of getting going than that one. It all follows from what WAIS has always been about.
On Pine Island, I understand that it’s a remote location. Is that kind of a primary reason why it comes around now rather than before?
Well no. I mean Pine Island — Keith Echelmeyer deserves a lot of credit for carrying the Amundsen Sea banner for years and years. When we were getting together in WAIS and talking about those Siple Coast ice streams and we would bring the Europeans in and they would talk about their boring ice streams over on the Ronne side that didn’t seem to show much evidence of change either now or even in the distant past, and they would remind us that West Antarctica is bigger than just the Siple Coast. But we still didn’t talk too much about the Amundsen Sea. Logistically we couldn’t get there, so in the early days, that explained why we didn’t say much about it. But then in more recent days when satellite data started to indicate changes were going on there, Keith Echelmeyer was right on that saying, “We’ve got to get there.”
Where is Keith Echelmeyer?
He’s at University of Alaska. Ian Whillans passed away of course because of cancer. Keith has had a terrible battle with cancer, but he’s an incredibly strong guy, and he’s still around and still lucid. But he was there saying, “Don’t forget about Pine Island and Thwaites.” I think he was looking for his own little niche, too, and Siple Coast ice streams were pretty well plastered with a lot of investigators already. But he had sound reasons for saying that Pine Island deserves some thought and attention. It’s turned out he’s dead right, so that’s where the action really is taking place and where I think the answers will be addressed, but logistically it’s hard to get to. It’s going to take another couple of years to get set up out there. But when it comes to IPY and having money to invest and what is NSF going to do because they can’t do everything, I defend vigorously the need to continue to work in Antarctica because it matters now. It’s no longer just this potential source of change; it’s changing right now and we have to answer it now.
This is sort of a new urgency after [Yes]. Larsen B is kind of what I’ve appreciated talking to people.
Larson B I think just underscores — Even without Larsen B, I would be as concerned about the Amundsen Sea because of what the Amundsen Sea itself is doing. I think Larsen B just underscores the ice shelf buttressing aspect. It gives us an extreme scenario that if you get rid of the entire ice shelf, then the glaciers that feed it really do speed up a whole lot. I think that’s sort of Amundsen Sea in fast-forward, if you will. But NSF, please don’t waste my time with going over to East Antarctica to explore things that explain what may have happened a few million years ago. I mean okay, it’s good science, but have you read the newspaper lately? I mean it’s really important that we do —
But when did you start to feel this pressure? I mean I know it’s always there from the get-go because it’s the motivating question.
It was about after ten years. I think the East Antarctic folks felt like they had been pushed to the back of the bus, and by about ten years in they were beginning to wonder.
This is after the WAIS initiative. I get the feeling you date everything from the initiative in 1990.
Yes, the 1990 is sort of T0. They felt like they had waited long enough, and maybe even before ten years. The grumblings were there that we’ve done West Antarctica for a long time, and all the planes leaving McMurdo, we see them going south or west, or east actually: east to get to West Antarctica. That wasn’t where their own personal science drew them. And the mega dunes, I have some good friends that work on the mega dunes, but I’m sorry, it’s…
As far as the pertinence of the West Antarctic project goes I guess is what I was trying to more get at. It seems to me is if during the Siple Coast project, it’s a question of “We would like to know more about this because this suggestion has been made that West Antarctica could disintegrate at some finite point in the future,” may or may have not have anything to do with the CO2question; we’re interested in its behavior. [Yes.] Then in 1990, around the same time as the IPCC process starts, it really sort of takes on a new sort of urgency that one wouldn’t get. I don’t know if the IPCC has anything to do with that…
Well, I think that first report, because it didn’t mention sort of the dynamic aspects of ice sheets, forced us to think about that.
Was it clear that IPCC was sort of particularly noteworthy assessment at that time?
Not at that time, no.
Because there were other workshops and assessments going on before that.
And I think my view, and I think it was close to the mean within this country, is that that was more the international thing, and the U.S. cared less about that than they did about their own assessments and the Bretherton Report. I mean that was the homegrown view, and that played better with Congress and all than this IPCC thing.
Mm-hmm [yes]. Well, I haven’t read actually much about the Bretherton Report. Maybe you could elaborate on that a little bit.
Well, it was a milestone because it talked about the Earth science as: the Earth is a system and it’s connected, and you can’t just parse it up and study each piece without appreciating the fact, and how, the pieces interact. There was some sort of ultra-complex wiring diagram — you know, everything connected to everything else — but I think it made that case most forcefully. So I mean I do take pride that I think WAIS, because we had that workshop, posed the question we did, “What makes us relevant in the context of Earth System Science?” and we were a community small enough that we rallied around a particular question, began to hold workshops where people from different disciplines did come together and over time learned how to talk to each other really became, I wouldn’t say interdisciplinary, because I think certainly not at that stage were we interdisciplinary. I think only now are we just starting to become interdisciplinary. But we were multidisciplinary. We did put all the disciplines underneath the same umbrella, all in the same room, and did talk to each other and did genuinely exchange information and influence each other’s research by learning what was going on in some other discipline. I think long before the Earth System Science thing ever got traction — if in fact it has traction yet, which I think could be questioned — but it’s hard. I think we learned why it was hard, but we had a community that was small enough that we could pull it off. Now I think, and maybe it’s only because there have been a couple of decades under our belt, we’re getting to the stage where we can start to point to some interdisciplinary projects. I think the one that we have going on Pine Island that we’re trying to get out there is an example of that. That project came to be only after a WAIS workshop a couple of years ago, when having been tickled by Steig’s comment — We were back at Algonquin, so it was the year after, and I said, “Okay, we are going to have some time at the workshop to talk about what projects are underway, what people are going to be finding out, and what people are going to be proposing to find out. We’re going to have that conversation because I want us to discuss how well it feeds that overall goal.” And so people shared what they were doing. We had a lot of that information already, but I said, “It seems to me — I mean here we are, we’ve talked a lot about the big changes in the Amundsen Sea, how the ocean’s doing this. I’m not hearing any projects that are going to address that head-on. So let me just put it this way.” I’ll try to remember how I phrased it. “If we do everything that everybody said they’re going to be doing and everything that they said they were going to propose gets funded and executed, in five years’ time, when all that’s done, are we going to be any closer to answering that central WAIS question of what is, in numbers, the likely contribution of the West Antarctic to the future sea level?” It was a pretty quiet room, and I said, “Somebody give me the answer,” and Richard Alley said no. I said, “I know. I know that’s the answer. And that means we’re missing something.” It got to one of those uncomfortable moments when you realize everybody’s expecting you to step into the breach, so I said, “If we need a project like that, okay. I’ll try to pull one together. But I won’t pull it together without some volunteers that will come with me.” So we got some people, Dave Holland and —
Just to verify, what’s the rough date here?
When were we in Pack Forest? We were in Pack Forest in ‘05.
Oh, that recently. Okay.
We only went there once, and it was because they were renovating Algonquin. I’m pretty sure it was ‘05. I’ll see if it all hangs together right. So this would have been ‘06, and I would have written a proposal that went in in ‘07 that got rejected in ‘07, resubmitted ‘08, right now in ‘09. It might have been ‘04 when Pack Forest was, so I think it was that ‘05 workshop. No, it was ‘06. Now you’ve got me worried. So we had a few hands. I had something to work with. I wrote the proposal. It got turned down for IPY, but with an encouraging message to resubmit, so I did, and then it got funded. So that’s how we got there. Let’s see where we are. We’ll try ‘05. That’s Algonquin. Let’s try ‘06. That’s Pack Forest. So it was the ‘07 workshop that this happened. Wow. That’s not that long ago. Yes, and I think that was a definite step down the interdisciplinary path. There just has not been what I would call true interdisciplinary research going on, even within WAIS, because it’s hard to do. It really is hard. But that is one where when we put the proposal together, we had modelers pushing field people, because the field people said, “Well, we’ll just measure these and that and the other.” The modelers said, “If that’s what you measure, it doesn’t help my model. I need a grid cell. Just bring all your measurements in. Give me a grid cell and tell me everything that’s going on in that grid cell.” “Oh, that’s what you want. Okay, well we’ll do that,” and talking about what kind of oceanographic measurements need to be made that would tell the glaciologists something about their boundary conditions and heat exchange. I mean that was true interdisciplinary conversation, and so I think that was an important moment. I hope that leads — It was hard to do. It was hard to write the proposal, and it’s been hard to do the work, too. But I think more of that has to happen to be truly interdisciplinary. But I really don’t see much of that going on anywhere else either for the same reasons because it’s hard.
Yes, you had mentioned to me when we spoke before, which was actually I think in the winter of ‘07 just a little bit after that. When we spoke on the phone, the modelers traditionally had been on a largely separate track from people doing field research.
Yes. And I think early on in WAIS, we tried to bring them together and some of the focus questions would try to bring them together. Oh, that was one thing I was going to say. When we sort of threw the whole evolution out and started talking about ice shelf buttressing and the bed is the controlling, and no, it’s these shear margins, and now it’s everything. And you toss in tidal modulation of ice stream motion, the modelers are just pulling their hair out, because as this pendulum keeps swinging around, they’re trying to figure out what their model has to focus on, and pretty soon, it’s this. No, it’s that. No, it’s that. And then now it’s everything. And then it’s tidal modulation on the scale of — I had Jim Fastook sitting in the front row when the stick-slip motion presentation I made for, the first time the full community had seen that, and he made a big display of throwing up his hands saying, “If I have to model things on five-minute time scales, I’m done. I’m ruined. There’s no way I can do this.”
He’s been working on it for 25 years at that point, perhaps off and on, because he gets involved early.
Yes. Well, a lot of that averages out, so it wasn’t quite that bad. But that was an explicit — capturing how the modeler was seeing some of this. You know, we’re just tossing in different critical dynamics at every turn and making it that much more complex to actually model. Now I think we still don’t have some of the key things in there — ocean ice interaction and sub-glacial hydrology, these lakes going up and down. What part of that matters? What part doesn’t matter? I mean I flip back and forth from thinking that that really matters, you’ve got to track that water; to no, that’s a system that is sort of connected with pipes and lakes and doesn’t affect most of the beds, so the ice sheet really doesn’t matter that water is coming and going in this fixed plumbing system. It’s more how much of it leaks out to affect the larger majority of the bed. So the only point in measuring these big volumes of water moving around is to get some handle on the residual water that’s leaking out and really causing the ice sheet flow to change. But that’s a fairly new field, and I’m not even sure we have the right tools yet, which is why I think West Antarctica research is going to continue for a while.
To what degree does the research that you’re involved in interact at all with the paleoclimatological or geological studies that others have been interested in?
My research specifically?
Well, obviously it wouldn’t be a very close specifically, but in terms of just thinking about the WAIS question.
It comes and goes. Right now, it’s more gone than here, and it’s because of the magnitude and the rates of change that we’re seeing. I’m not sure that the paleo picture is as relevant, and I’m strongly focused now in the sunset of my career on that 100-year IPCC timeframe, and it’s less —
So you’ve really come around from the original position in 1990 to the assessment sort of mindset. [Yes.] I mean I know you have a lot of papers in the late ‘90s that are sort of directed toward a more general scientific audience as the West Antarctic Ice Sheet disintegrating sorts of papers. [Yes.] So I’m curious about your own attitudinal arc as to what audience you’re addressing.
I don’t know how much of it is age-related, but I’ve sometimes thought that it is age-related because I’ve seen this in some other people, too, that as they get older and they give the overview talks, they find a particular near-term focus. Certainly that’s true for me, and it’s because I want to — Having completely discounted IPCC as just irrelevant at the initial stages, it is the drumbeat that I march to right now, and I want to see that it gets fed some valuable information. The ice sheet is changing so fast right now that it will matter over the next century. So the broad —
At what point did it start to matter, with the third assessment or the second even?
We had a big fight on the third assessment. That first assessment, ice sheets no matter. Second assessment, high risk, low probability event. Third assessment was driven by, again, these large ice sheet models that couldn’t include ice dynamics, ice sheets, ice streams.
Sorry, I should know this, but have you been an author on any of that?
I was contributing author to the third, but that’s sort of the lowest level of authorship. It was not lead author. I guess maybe not even contributing author. I just sort of [was a] “provided input” kind of author because Gary Clarke was writing the chapter there. We had a big cat fight over “the ice dynamics matters, and so these models aren’t the only answer, aren’t giving the right answers,” but the authorship structure was such that they were in the driver’s seat. So although even the expert review and the national review had strong comments by U.S. glaciologists that they did not include the ice dynamics and that it mattered and we had observations that were starting to reveal it, it didn’t hold sway. The authors like Philippe Huybrechts said that they took our comments into account, but they really didn’t. So I think that third report was a real wakeup call, and on the fourth report, I was asked to be an author, but I was doing an International Polar Year sort of formulation and I cared most about that. But Richard Alley and Bob Thomas were on there, and Mike Oppenheimer as well. I think they really did the community an extraordinarily good service to get the language in that they did, so I think that fourth report really did set the stage for what we’re working on now. It said that ice sheet dynamics matters; we just don’t know it well enough. Susan Solomon sat right there and I complained to her. I know Susan pretty well, and complained that they put numbers in the table for sea level rise. I said, “Susan, why’d you do that?” because the words said don’t believe the numbers. That’s the way I’d describe it. She said, “Well, we were forced to put numbers in the table. They said, ‘Here’s this table; you’ve got to have numbers in it. So okay.” It’s good that the words were there. So I think that was good progress, that report, and I told Susan as much as I may sound like I’m complaining about the fourth assessment report, I always say it’s a call to action to our community: “Get your act together. Give us some numbers.” So I think that’s the right way we should take it, and a lot of us have taken it that way. So we want to get those numbers in, and we will. So I think the evolution of the IPCC has been good, and I think maybe I’m sort of following it finally as a hopefully effective way, certainly a recognized way of getting a stamp of credibility on whatever is said and is published and written in there because I think that’s really important. That’s sort of a bigger issue that I’m very aware of right now that scientists are not delivering actionable information to the policy makers, and they have to. I was testifying to Congress some weeks ago, and one of the committee members said, “Well, maybe we’re just getting in the way and the policy makers ought to just get out of the way for a while.” I said, “No, no, no. That’s exactly the wrong thing. That’s not what I would advise. I think you’ve got to bring more scientists out from behind, out of their sort of comfort zone where they want to put so many caveats on, that they have to when they speak to their scientific colleagues. But you can’t deal with that information. We have to be able to help you strip away some of the uncertainties, and we won’t reduce them, but we’ll give you information that you can actually make billion-dollar decisions based on, and we’ll be able to sign off and say that’s the best information we can give you right now. And, yes, it may change in the future, but we don’t think it will; it’s the best it’s going to be.” We have to do more of that. And I think WAIS has sort of come around to being able to provide that. We’ve met resistance. It was at the Pack Forest meeting where we were discussing the re-emergence of this formative issue that we are all about. I said, “Well, you’re right, Eric. We have to do this,” and there were some people who said, “No, we can’t do that yet. We just are not prepared to do that. It would be improper for us to do that,” and they just were not going to be dragged along even kicking and screaming to participate in such a thing. But I’m pushing to do that, and we’ve got enough people that want to be part of that. I’m just absolutely convinced it’s the right thing to do.
Are there certain individuals you think of as particularly tied towards the policy-oriented question? I have to think of Richard Alley. I haven’t spoken to him.
Oh sure, Richard. Bob Thomas I think wants to. He’s a bit of a curmudgeon. I think Richard is more eloquent in being able to cast things in a way that it would be actionable.
But I mean just traditionally. I’m thinking particularly in the 1990s, just moving through. Who had been the people who tried to attach the science to the policy assessment process most explicitly or most forthrightly… in a liaison capacity — people who cared about the IPCC from an early stage?
I think most of us had a pretty dim view of the IPCC, because it was… Our issue didn’t fit, and certainly in the early days it didn’t fit for the reasons that Hans Oerlemans said. But it wasn’t even mentioned, and we felt it was… I think I’m fairly, again, close to the mean on this, that IPCC cast their mandate improperly because they excluded issues that would influence the next 100 years that weren’t triggered by events in that same 100 years. Because we were still sort of in that mode of thinking that the West Antarctic may release a lot of ice for reasons quite separate from anything that happened in the climate during that same 100 years. It was sort of a much delayed response or an internal stability and that it wouldn’t make any difference to a coastal community that they got flooded because of something that wasn’t triggered by an event that happened in that 100 years. The fact that they got flooded would matter to them, so we should be part of the question, and we weren’t. But back then, it was just a potential, but I think — yes. So the big change that has happened is the fact that we do see these big changes in the ice sheet and that we think they’re being — a lot of us think they’re being triggered by events that are happening. So that whole concern and consternation over not being invited to the party goes away because for both those reasons we need to be included and we have every right to be and will be included in future assessments because climate change is influencing the ice sheet and will have some impact through sea level primarily. But we’ve got to get our act together. We can’t just stay in the back row and say, “Well, we’re not ready yet. We need another 50 field seasons of work to get all the processes figured out.” That ain’t going to cut it. So a comment we made at the [visitor’s] gate [referring to a conversation before the interview], you know, this business of glaciology had been a fairly quiet backwater science, quite honestly, and it’s been rather quickly shoved to the front of the stage. It’s a small community with big questions to be answered with enormous uncertainties in studying an environment that it’s hard to study any more than three months out of the year. And we’re being asked really tough questions. I don’t want to say we’re caught off-guard, but we’re caught unprepared. Well, we are unprepared to deliver the mail. It’s a small community. [Laughs] I just keep getting back to that. Even ice-to-sea [coupling] is sort of the parallel activity of delivering numbers on future sea level from ice sheets for the IPCC European Framework 7, and it’s got millions of Euros to spend. So they put out advertisements for post-docs to help them work on this, and they’re not getting very many applicants because the people just aren’t out there to do the work. So it can’t be solved with just money. So the whole issue of capacity-building is a big one for our community, I think. We can only respond so fast, but I also say that there are very few people I know in glaciology that aren’t working on some aspect or one or more aspects of the rapid response, because we need everybody to work on it to make progress as fast as we can.
I’ve been feeling that sort of dividing this project that Michael Oppenheimer and Naomi Oreskes have put together to study the history of this entire process into a sort of science component, and then we have Jess O’Reilly doing the assessment component. It’s sort of the proper way to go about it, because the way that Michael, being so attached to the process of assessment, had been thinking about it as, you know, you can trace the thing through the ‘80s and the ‘90s. It’s as if every time you change your attention from the sides of the ice streams to the base or you discover something that affects your timeframe [of WAIS disintegration] in a certain way. My response increasingly has been, you know, “These people just don’t think of this this way”— you know, that every new discovery is shifting the timeframe in a concrete way, or in a way that you can easily measure. I’m wondering if that’s the proper way to look at things.
And how is Michael viewing it?
Well, I think Michael has tried to put out papers on learning processes for sort of these —
My mind drifted when you were saying that. That’s one reason I’m asking you to repeat.
So for example, on the learning processes for the assessment process and these Bayesian models that are sort of put into it, and so the notion is that you would have — When a new paper comes in, then your idea of what would happen to the fate of the ice sheet over a certain period of time would change, and you know, just looking at the history from individual’s perspectives, what’s clear to me is that we’re dealing with scientists, not assessors. They just simply haven’t addressed the problem from this perspective that everything that they do is going to change what goes into the assessment process, and it seems clearer and clearer to me that this is the case. I don’t know if you would disagree.
Well, I feel I’ve just been peeling an onion, and just like we learned a few years into WAIS that we weren’t communicating across disciplinary boundaries as effectively as we thought we were, we had sort of preconceived notions of what we were doing. Any science investigation is built within some conceptual framework, and we started this thinking that we’re just dealing with the fast-moving part of an ice sheet and we learned that wasn’t right. Some of the discoveries, when I present them, and I want the audience to ooh and Ahh and say, “Wow! That’s just amazing that it happens that way,” sometimes I will be more than disappointed, worried a little bit maybe, that their reaction is, “Well geez, that made sense. Why did that surprise you?” It’s only because we were blinded by our own preconceived notions that we weren’t open to that possibility. Do we think we’re smarter than we are? Well, yes. I think we probably do think we’re smarter than we are. So it’s exciting, but it’s also humbling that as we have made a number of discoveries that have forced us to wander around through this dark room, trying to find what the key process is. Part of it is inherent just in the fact that you right back to that first flight over Siple Coast and the fact that Charlie and Ian and I decided that upstream [Ice Stream] B point on the map was the place to go. It was the place that we could go, and therefore it’s the place we had to go. Scientifically was it the place we wanted to go? Probably not. It was fairly atypical because it wasn’t crevassed, and everything else was crevassed. So how typical were the results collected from the experiments that we ran there? That’s always been — it’s a question that pops up again and again. In science, I’ve learned over all these years you follow your nose. You discover something; you sort of process that information. Therefore, this other thing is confirmed, but this thought over here can be discounted. The way I put the pieces together now takes me there, and it helps you formulate a different question; and you go answer that question. And you know, when there are fewer pieces on the table, every little discovery forces, I think, a larger rearrangement of the pieces that you do have. I think that’s sort of where we have been with WAIS. We’ve been making major discoveries which tells me that the table is pretty blank of pieces, and as we’re making these discoveries, we’re having to rearrange the pieces significantly. I think it’s still blanker than it is covered with pieces that we know. So the underlying thing is that sea level has gone up really fast in the past. That’s one of the cornerstones of the whole project that it has happened. Ice sheets are the only way it can happen, so the potential is always there.
Now is this almost going into sort of what I found to be the Terry Hughes perspective on things, which is, “Well, they’ve done a lot of great science. In the meantime, they’ve learned a lot about ice streams. There’s still a lot that they don’t know. This is what we know, and we know that this happened in the past at a very rapid rate. Go from there.” So the question, you know, if every time you learn something all the pieces get arranged, what does that matter to the final output? So if you’re somebody like Michael Oppenheimer, you’re wondering, “Well, okay. But does this affect — What’s the shortest amount of time that this could happen and what’s the longest amount of time? Will it ever happen?” So those are the key questions, and if we understand the process or if we don’t. So how do you feel? Do you feel that any discoveries you make would radically alter the bounds of the general WAIS problem?
I was comfortable when some of us met at the University of Texas, and we were under the gun because they had scheduled a press conference. So we were going to come up with some insightful statements to make.
When was this roughly?
It was in the 2000s. It was called a WALSE, and I can’t remember what it stands for. West Antarctica blah, blah, blah whatever. We said, “Let’s take Pine Island and make it go as fast as we dare let it go. How fast would ice come out?” So we did that, and over a century, it can make a significant… it can’t do one meter by itself by the end of the century. I think with stick-slip on Whillans we see an ice stream go as fast as it can go. I think through this tidal modulation, whatever’s going on in that till, it gets completely weak and just negligible, and then it is the sides that hold that ice stream back. It goes pretty fast—for 20 minutes. So it can do that; that’s another observational fact. I like the idea of being tied by observations to help define the extremes. In fact, we’re going to do this kind of stuff with the SeaRISE modeling activity. That’s why I like the approach that Pfeffer took in the science paper where he essentially just said, “Let’s let more outlet glaciers do what Jakobshavn outlet glacier does to get an upper bound.” I think that’s the right way to go. I have a hard time seeing ice coming out so fast that the maximum rates of sea level rise that we’ve seen in the Holocene can be reproduced. My understanding of that is that that’s ice coming out of Hudson Strait, and we don’t have a portal like that. We don’t have that kind of situation. If it’s coming out of West Antarctica, it’s coming out of Pine Island and Thwaites. It’s not coming out of that whole area in between. Probably can’t do that. So I think that’s a valve that limits.
You don’t think out through the Ross Sea any more either?
No time soon. The ice shelf buttresses that well enough that we would have to see a big change in the ice shelf. If it started today, could it unfold in a century? Maybe. It would have to get really warm to get so much melt water on that ice shelf that it would do something like Larsen B, and it’s three times as thick. So there is a lot of reason to say that that can’t happen. So we’re doing exactly this, this kind of experiment, these upper bound experiments with the SeaRISE models. We’re just going to impose Jakobshavns-type retreat and Larsen B kind of disintegration to both ice sheets, and say, “Okay, how does that propagate inland?” We can’t have a climate model pull those triggers because we don’t have those connections yet, so we’re just going to impose them to answer the question how bad could it possibly get in a century? Because I think that’s the only way to get a quantitative handle on it right now. We’re going to be working from the outside in through trying to shrink these upper bounds to more and more realistic scenarios, forcing the ice sheet primarily at the edges. With Greenland, we’re going to melt the surface and let the water go straight down and lubricate it. But ice-to-sea is working from the inside out. They’re trying to get the best models connected so they can get the right answer with some uncertainty level. We’re just working on the uncertainty from the outside. Hopefully we’ll get something close to the same answer. But how good can it get — I think that’s not too good either, because I think we’ve already passed a threshold that’s significant because there’s so much heat already, and I think the ocean drives it, and there’s so much heat in the ocean, far more heat in the ocean than there is in the atmosphere. It’s just really an issue of directing that heat to the ice sheet or not. My local perspective on Pine Island Glacier — we see on that ice shelf huge waves in the surface, and there are deep keels of really thick ice underneath these surface waves, and they’re spaced about one-year’s motion apart. So these are being formed every year. I looked at somebody’s model of sort of the Southern Hemisphere and seasonal increase in the winds and the seasonal increase in the circulation of the southern ocean, and Coriolis force pushes the surface water away, and the intermediate circumpolar deep water comes up under the continental shelf. He was able to calculate through this model how much heat is getting lifted up onto the shelf in the wintertime when the winds are strongest. So I could calculate how much additional heat comes up in a winter as compared to the summer, and compare that with how much heat would have to get to the ice shelf to melt these thick keels that form, or the thin spots that get melted every year. It’s like eight orders of magnitude more heat is coming up onto the Amundsen Sea than is required to melt these cavities in the ice shelf. So it just underscored to me there’s just a huge, immense amount of heat in the ocean that could wipe out the ice sheet really fast. It’s just: is it going to get to the ice sheet or not? So I think it really comes down to — this has been a bitter pill for me to swallow — that it’s not so much about the ice sheets. They’re just a thin, fragile glass, and there is this sledge hammer floating around out in the ocean. If it gets to the ice sheet, the ice sheet’s gone! It’s a smaller part of the whole system than I wanted to admit. So I think that’s why that project is so critical, why connecting it to ocean atmosphere models is so critical. I mean, that may make it sound like I think the ice sheet can just disappear really fast. I think there are limiting valves, and I don’t see through reasonable changes in ocean circulation in particular, but atmosphere-ocean coupled systems that we can just start piping that heat straight to the ice sheet. That isn’t going to happen. But it will react. There is an awful lot of heat out there, and it will react quickly to it, but it still has these valves that it has to come out, and I think those valves will limit the rate at which it could get bad. Those valves can run for a long time, but I think the rate is limited by those valves. So I’m way back to what Bob Thomas told me when [I was] sharing an office with him, I think the ice shelves really are very critical components of this. I’m not so much worried about the sub-glacial hydrology, certainly not as interested in that as I was before. I think the answer is right at the edge with the ocean just because there is so much heat out there. I’ve got people that disagree with me! [Chuckles] But I just don’t see big changes happening. I would say to them if the bed matters so much, that’s a snapshot. But to get the ice sheet to change you have to change the condition at the bed. “How are you going to change the condition of a bed suddenly?” “Well, I’m going to bait it with water.” “Well, you can only do that until the water runs out, and then it goes back to what it was, so maybe there is some episode of activity and a little bit more ice comes out, but then it stops.” Maybe that kind of stuff is going on. The sea level record is pretty noisy. Variable; I shouldn’t say noisy; it’s not noise. So I think the view of West Antarctica, we have more pieces on the table, but we still don’t have enough to put the picture together yet. And different people are putting it together different ways, and they’re reading of the pieces is determining what they think. I like to put jigsaw puzzles together. So you’ve got a jigsaw puzzle and you’ve got the border together well, I don’t like the border together anymore — but you’ve got pieces, and you’re going to focus on a piece, “I need that piece. That’s the piece I need because that will help me put this together.” And I think that’s what’s going on with people looking at the pieces scattered on the table, and they arrange them in their mind a particular way and say, “This next piece is the piece. If I get that piece, that’s going to help me build this picture better for me.” You’ve probably had as many different interpretations of that piece and the reason that piece will fill in the picture that they see as there are scientists. We tend to be independent thinkers, which is good. Eventually we’ll get a single picture out of it, but that will be a ways down the road, sorry to say. [Laughs]
Well, all right. I guess I’m pretty satisfied with the interview. We’ve sort of been talking in broad stokes for the past while.
Why don’t I suggest, because I’m not sure how satisfied to be, but let me suggest this. I don’t know if this is how you work or if it would help you get to where you want to get to. If you digest all of these ramblings from me and have specific questions that you want detailing. At times you gave me those and again I might have started to answer it and felt like I rambled again, that can form the basis of us getting together in.
[Further cross talk; discussion of the process of the relationship between an oral history interview and historical research and producing research papers.] I really think it is a good book myself.
I guess it’s been my career, and it has just been fantastic. I cannot imagine a more compelling topic. I certainly couldn’t have picked one, if I had my pick of anything I wanted when I first came here, what would you like to work on? It started slow with a lot of potential in the sense that we think this might matter, we think it might do something. But certainly to have its relevance increase is far better than to go the other route. I’ve seen people who study things here and they become less and less and less relevant. This is anything but. It will continue because I think the questions will continue to force it to be addressed. I don’t know how I’m going to decouple myself from it. I think I may just sort of drift to the back and let the other people do the fieldwork and all. I don’t know, maybe through the modeling I’ll find a place for myself, because I think that’s really where we have to… it’s that interface that I find matters more and more to me. I enjoy the education outreach interface, and I’m not the best necessarily to articulate a lot of this stuff for the sake of policymakers; it may just be more haranguing my own community to say we have to do more of it. But I think that’s probably really important. WAIS serves as an excellent example of formulating multidisciplinary research and this is the way science goes, and you peel an onion and you find things, and the pendulum swings. But ultimately you’ve got a tiger by the tail, and it’s a tiger that everybody wants to know what they’re going to do. You’re forced to come up with some numbers, and then forced to focus on how to make those numbers better. I think that’d be fantastic. I think it might well serve as a really, really good example of exactly that.
In trying to figure out what details are important historically or not important historically, just to pull an example, I was looking through some of your articles to get a sense of your work before I came to talk to you, and I was looking at something from the Journal of Glaciology from the early ‘90s wherein you have a series of satellite photographs, and you suggest that the Crary Ice Rise is only so old. So, if I were to ask you about something as particular as that, I’m wondering what your response is.
Are you asking me about that one?
Yes, let’s ask you about that. I mean there are a hundred things I could ask you about along those lines. Would you view that as a very specific concern within a very specific question, or would you view it as part of a larger program?
Part of a larger program — how was I reading the pieces?
[Yes, how are you reading the pieces at that point?] It was the CLIMAP view, West Antarctica was much bigger in the past, three times as big as it is now and it lost all that ice. Terry’s idea of the swinging gate, how the grounding line has come back. But Crary Ice Rise sort of hangs outside the gate there. Is it a remnant of the gate having swung past it, or is it more representative of an intermediate advance of the ice sheet than a retreat off of that. So that would be answered if we had a technique that would date when that ice that’s there first grounded on that bed underneath. So we had a technique through the temperature profile. We felt we could be able to tell whether it was a really, really old event and that ice had been grounded a long time, or whether it was something fairly recent. So we went there and we drilled, and we measured the temperature profile, and we did some modeling of, if it grounded X number of years ago, what would the temperature profile look like? OK, well, what if it grounded Y years ago? Keep moving that date around, and how well can we match the temperature profile, and what is the grounding date for that match? And we found that it’s fairly recent. So it is not a remnant of a grounded area of a much—Well, it’s not consistent with the view that that place is still the grounded remnant of a much thicker ice sheet where the whole Ross Ice Shelf was grounded, and this is just the last bit. So it’s more suggestive of “that was ungrounded too, and the ice came back into that area after sort of the full-scale retreat and re-grounded there. More consistent with an ice stream sort of turning on and off, and an ice stream advances or does a surge kind of thing and then retreats back, and another one becomes active and it then it gets stagnant and retreats. B and C models tend to agree that B and C can take turns as they advance and retreat.” So it was consistent with that, not with the big view. And it also became part of the interpretation of the flow stripes, all these flow stripes that come out the Ross Ice Shelf. You had to fit in that marker that Crary Ice Rise grounded somewhere 500 years ago, and actually it fits fairly nicely with the big fold that’s downstream. So I guess that would be an example of how a specific project searched for a piece to add to the table. The conversation at WAIS started to get confused ten years on because we were seeing so many different changes, and we had to discipline ourselves to talk about what time scale we were really talking about. Were we talking about the big ice sheet that CLIMAP likes to put way out there in the Ross Sea and the retreat of that, so 10,000 years ago. Or are we talking about Ice Stream C shutting down 150 years ago and changes that might have happened right then? Or are we talking about even all the way to the tidal modulation, something that happened this morning? Because we have seen so many changes. Siple Dome, the fact that it seems to have remained a dome — well, over what timescale are you talking about?
So these sorts of things change the way that one would potentially interpret certain kinds of evidence.
Yes. Some of the observations… Like there is an ice stream that is sort of a paleo ice stream that cuts across the back of Siple Dome at a different direction; it’s not bumpy there anymore, and that’s been timed. The time when its margin was active has been identified, sort of quasi dated at, I can’t remember now, 1,000 years ago, 1,500 years ago. So that ice stream is not relevant when you’re talking about the processes that might have been responsible for Ice Stream C shutting down, because that was just 150 years ago. So it just doesn’t play into it. So really it’s to separate some of these different change events that are recorded in the data. That time scale really does matter a whole lot.
I think that sounds fine. [Discusses transcription process.] Well, thank you.