This week we’re leaving the Australasia region completely and heading over to the United States of America, with a layover in Greenland! Dr Santiago de la Peña is a research scientist from the Byrd Polar Research Center in Columbus, Ohio. The BPRC is all about polar and alpine research, looking at things like the changing of land-shape over millions of years, effectors of the global climate system, and the history of exploration – all within the polar (or alpine) regions.
Santiago is currently a NASA-funded investigator, and combines satellite observations of volume changes of the Greenland ice sheet with information about the snow and ice structure they acquire in the field each year. They study changes in the ice structure, monitor melt intensity, and assess overall climatological conditions in the Greenland interior. The aim of their work is to improve estimates of the yearly contribution of the Greenland ice sheet to sea level rise through its melting and ice dynamics (commonly known as icebergs calving).
We asked Santiago why he ended up in science:
“Since I was a kid, I been often surprised by some of the beautifully simple explanations that science provides. Yet, learning science made me also realize how complex and vast our world is, and how much there is still to discover. Working in Earth Sciences, I have the fortune of experiencing that sense of wonder every day.
Growing up, I loved going out camping, hiking and such; I always wondered about the weather, why suddenly we could not go outside, and why we couldn’t predict it better. I also was a bit of a computer geek as a boy, which led me to study for my undergraduate degree in electrical engineering. While studying, I found out about remote sensing, which is basically techniques used to measure geophysical phenomena from a distance, such as satellite imagery, radiometers, lidar, radar, etc. I enrolled in the University of Colorado at Boulder, and decided to study remote sensing in graduate school, and specialized in radar remote sensing. I think I have been very fortunate, and everything fell in to place from there.”
And the ever-important question – how did you end up in your current field of study, and what keeps you there?
“I visited Antarctica for the first time as a graduate student, and I can single out this experience as the life-changing event that led me to where I am now professionally. The diverse group of scientists I met, and the wide spectrum of research projects that were being conducted in Antarctica was an inspiration and a wakeup call to me. In my own studies, I was just beginning to understand how all Earth systems were linked, but not until I experienced standing on the bigger ice sheets of the planet that I truly comprehended how vast our world is, and how fragile we are. Besides my love for glaciers and the cold regions, I believe that the cryosphere plays such a huge part in Earth dynamics, and I believe we should be paying more attention to the changes occurring in the polar regions, and how it affects us and our environment.”
With so much research funding coming from the tax payer, and with an eye towards improving science literacy across the globe, we asked Santiago for his motivation, and to tell us why he thinks the lay public should care about his research?
“It is all about the big picture. In a sense, my research may appear a bit technical, but the changes in the Polar Regions could have serious consequences to our way of life. There is no place where global warming manifests more severely than in the Arctic, with warming several degrees higher than the departure seen on a global average. Recent warming trends at high latitudes have raised concern regarding the current state and dynamics of the Greenland Ice Sheet, and there is serious concern about the effects of melt in Greenland could have on sea level, and on the thermohaline circulation, of which the gulf stream is part of. The consequences are still a matter of debate, but extreme weather events are starting to be linked to these changes. Many regions may become unsuitable for human life, and economic activities may as well be disrupted.”
So, with that rather sombre thought; please welcome Dr Santiago de la Peña /@ice_santiago to Real Scientists!