Science to Civics 2019 WIGF fellowship explores changes in the greenland ice sheet

By Hannah O. Brown

Published August 20, 2019

While researching the stream characteristics of the Greenland Ice Sheet over the last few years, Jon and Ellen Martin have amassed a variety of stories that seem otherworldly and hard to imagine: Helicopter rides across frozen landscapes, hikes across enormous ice sheets, and international flights with over 1,500 pounds of scientific equipment checked as “excess baggage.”

The 2017 field team in Greenland. From left: Daniel Fischer, Philip Ackerman, Andrea Pain, Jon Martin and Ellen Martin. The ice wall in the back is the Russell Glacier, an outlet glacier of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

The couple, who are both professors in the Department of Geological Sciences, teamed up to research how retreating ice sheets in Greenland impact mineral weathering reactions and the resulting changes in atmospheric CO2 and nutrient delivery to the ocean.

Starting in Fall 2019, they are expanding this research program to focus on changing hydrology, ecology and geochemistry on a broader scale in Greenland, with backing from the UF Water Institute through its the 2019 Water Institute Graduate Fellows program. The program receives support from the colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Life and Agricultural Sciences, Journalism and Communications, and the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

“Our aim is to determine what the nutrient fluxes are to the ocean and the greenhouse gases fluxes to the atmosphere as the ice sheet retreats from this landscape,” Jon Martin said. “Greenland provides a wonderful opportunity to understand potential upcoming changes associated with Arctic warming and ice sheet retreat.”

And they are not embarking on this journey alone. The WIGF program includes nine additional faculty and seven doctoral students. The interdisciplinary program will include a range of research activities and, for the first time this year, an emphasis on what they are calling environmental civics for all fellows.

Research topics include microbial ecology and hydrology of ice sheets, the ecological development of high latitude plant and microbial communities in a non-glacial landscape, and the impacts of hyporheic exchange on stream solute fluxes, among many others.

“There's very little U.S. research that's done on the landscape that's now exposed in Greenland,” Martin said. “Most of this kind of work is actually being done by the Danes and by the Greenlanders themselves.”

Local middle school students assisting the Martins during previous research trips in Greenland.

Martin hopes to include local scientists and community members in as much of the research process as possible, and he hopes that by incorporating an environmental civics component, the findings of the program’s research can be applied to assist local communities in Greenland and Florida.

“Those academics who really were able to change Florida or change the world for the better were people who were able to balance their research and speak truth to the public and to people in power."

Cynthia Barnett, environmental fellow and lecturer in residence with the Bob Graham Center for Public Service and College of Journalism and Communications, will help advise the fellows on public engagement, communication skills and civic leadership.

“Normally this would never happen at the beginning of a project,” Barnett said. “I thought it was neat that they were turning that around and before they figured out their science, they were beginning to ask: How can we do a better job of articulating the importance of this work to the public?”

Cynthia Barnett, environmental fellow and lecturer in residence with the Bob Graham Center for Public Service and College of Journalism and Communications

Barnett has been inspired by researchers who have championed—and helped the public understand—the species and environments they studied. She named the late sea turtle scientist and UF professor Archie Carr and former dean of the UF Levin School of Law Frank Maloney, who helped write Florida’s model water law, as prime examples.

“Those academics who really were able to change Florida or change the world for the better were people who were able to balance their research and speak truth to the public and to people in power,” she said.

By incorporating discussions of environmental civics into the program from the very beginning, the idea is that students and faculty may consider the sociological dynamics of impacted communities as they decide upon their research questions for the program.

And Barnett believes the impact may be beneficial: “If the conversation about environmental civics is influencing the scientific questions, I think that's okay because it is inspiring them to think more about the relevance to the local community in Greenland and to what decision makers might need to know about changing global systems.”

Jon Martin agrees, saying the inclusion of environmental civics may lead to questions that researchers would not have previously been able to answer, or even ask.

Andrea Pain, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Geological Sciences, has been working on the Greenland project with the Martins and also participated in a previous WIGF program as a graduate student.

In her experience, the interdisciplinary aspect of the fellowship was one of the most enriching, though it did take some time for all of the students and faculty to develop a shared language that everyone could understand.

“There's a learning curve because everyone is using different terminology and thinking about things in a different way,” she said.

Pain says the Greenland focus of the fellowship is well-timed as the region experiences rapid change from climate impacts.

“I think there's a huge interdisciplinary potential,” she said.

The research questions and end products of the fellowship program will depend on the interests of the students and faculty involved; however, Jon Martin has some ideas.

“To me, the best end product would be a whole series of journal articles that both further general knowledge of high latitude processes and inform policy decisions, which could actually benefit society in some way,” he said.

Created By
Hannah Brown


Thank you to Ellen Martin and the UF Geology Department for images for this story.

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