Research News

Scientists talk about ice at Buffalo conference

Ice conference speakers

Speakers and organizers of the International Glaciological Society Symposium on Timescales, Processes and Glacier Dynamics pose for a picture. That's Buffalo City Hall in the background. Photo: Douglas Levere

By CHARLOTTE HSU

Published June 8, 2018

Kristin Poinar, assistant professor, Department of Geology
“Getting people together to share their ideas is one of the biggest ways we move science forward.”
Kristin Poinar, assistant professor
Department of Geology

How many people have been to Antarctica? The Arctic? Greenland?

It’s Thursday afternoon in the Marquis ballroom of the Hotel at the Lafayette, and dozens of hands go up.

This week, Buffalo played host to a group of adventurous guests: about 80 glacier and ice sheet scientists who came from as far away as New Zealand and Abu Dhabi to discuss the latest climate change research at a conference hosted by the UB Department of Geology.

The International Glaciological Society (IGS) Symposium on Timescales, Processes and Glacier Dynamics took place June 3-8.

The event attracted some of the leading voices in the field, such as Robin Bell, president-elect of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), and Richard Alley, a Pennsylvania State University climate scientist who has hosted a PBS special on climate change and testified before the U.S. Congress on the issue.

“Getting people together to share their ideas is one of the biggest ways we move science forward,” said Kristin Poinar, UB assistant professor of geology and a member of the symposium’s organizing committee. “This conference in particular brings together a couple of different communities under the same umbrella to talk about how ice responds to climate change.”

Attendees included researchers who study the history of Earth’s ice, along with those investigating the present and future — how glaciers and ice sheets are behaving today, and how they might respond to climate change in years to come.

“We all work so hard independently on these different problems, but coming together to see how independent ideas converge is so important,” said conference participant Caitlyn Florentine, a PhD candidate in geosciences at the University of Montana. “It reassures you that your thinking is grounded in reality. The problems we work on are complicated and difficult enough that it’s just not feasible for one individual or group to make progress on the bigger problems alone.”

UB’s selection as the symposium’s host highlights the institution’s growing visibility in climate science, said lead organizer Beata Csatho, chair of the Department of Geology.

The department has expanded its climate change research group in recent years, with Poinar’s hire in 2018 bringing the number of tenure-track faculty members working in glaciology to four — a relatively large number in this area of study.

Robin Bell spoke at the International Glaciological Society (IGS) Symposium on Timescales, Processes and Glacier Dynamics

Robin Bell, president-elect of the American Geophysical Union, spoke about the need to build an ethical and sustainable future, including through stewardship of the environment and building better workplaces. Photo: Douglas Levere

Public events sprinkled throughout

In addition to nurturing research, public outreach was a feature of the conference.

Sebastian Copeland, a renowned polar explorer and photographer, delivered a RENEW Distinguished Lecture at the conference on Thursday, speaking to attendees, as well as members of the public. Illustrated with award-winning photographs, his presentation chronicled his expeditions and warned the audience about the perils of climate change. (Copeland was the one who posed the question about which audience members had traveled to the Arctic, Antarctica or Greenland.)

Other events that were open to the community included a talk by Bell, the AGU president-elect, who discussed the need to build an ethical and sustainable future, including through stewardship of the environment and building better workplaces.

Bell told the audience it’s important to acknowledge that science has a problem when it comes to gender equity. She said it’s a cultural problem — not a women’s problem — and shared that the AGU ethics policy now includes harassment and bullying in the definition of scientific misconduct.

On the environmental end, Bell spoke about the “net-zero” design of the AGU’s Washington, D.C., headquarters, whose renovation will feature such technologies as a solar array, green wall, radiant cooling and rooftop water recapture.

Bell’s June 4 talk was followed by a presentation on science communication by Shane Hanlon, a specialist in the AGU’s Sharing Science program and a producer of “The Story Collider” podcast, which is devoted to true, personal stories about science.

Hanlon’s talk highlighted the value of communicating science with the public. He said that while most Americans can’t name a living scientist, data shows that people tend to trust scientists and think policy should be based on science. Storytelling is a powerful tool for sharing science with the public, Hanlon said, in a discussion that covered tips for effectively communicating ideas with nonscientists.

The International Glaciological Society Symposium on Timescales, Processes and Glacier Dynamics was sponsored by the UB Department of Geology, Center for Geohazards Studies at UB, UB College of Arts and Sciences, UB RENEW Institute, the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, the National Science Foundation and NASA. The Bell and Hanlon lectures were supported by the College of Arts and Sciences.