University of Idaho doctoral student Christopher Cox arrived on Greenland’s coast at the peak of the July 2012 warming event on the island.
He watched as the Watson River, fed by melt from the periphery of the Greenland Ice Sheet, washed out sections of a bridge even as people tried to stop the surge.
“They tried to save the bridge by adding fill to a collapsed section, but it swallowed their tractor,” he says.
This wild weather had greeted Cox on his third trip to Greenland. The environmental science student is a member of the ICECAPS team, which is led by U-Idaho geography professor Von P. Walden and studies the atmosphere above the Greenland Ice Sheet at Summit Station.
Cox – who recently won the university’s Doctoral Research Award – first visited Summit in the spring of 2010 when ICECAPS deployed. The following year, he spent three months manning the isolated research station perched at one of the highest points of the ice sheet.
For his latest trip, Cox served as expedition scientist for the University of Idaho’s Adventure Learning at Greenland program, dubbed AL@GL. He joined expedition leaders Brant G. Miller, assistant professor of science and technology education in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and R. Justin Hougham, a postdoctoral fellow in the geography department.
After a day teaching a group of American, Danish and Greenlandic high-school students on the coast, Cox and Miller headed to Summit Station with a select team of science-focused students.
ICECAPS’ instruments are highly specialized, so Cox helped the students observe the atmosphere above the station with simpler, analogous tools, including a laser range-finder and thermal imager.
“We wanted to create an intermediary step and have something to put in the hands of students,” Cox says.
They also connected online with student researchers at two other sites – the U-Idaho campus and the McCall Outdoor Science School – who used the same tools to make observations in their parts of the world.
Miller says partnerships like AL@GL can serve as a model for connecting the public with vitally important science.
“I’m interested in supporting scientists in communicating to the K-12 community and to the general public through the Adventure Learning approach,” he says. “I’m so thankful for scientists like Chris and Von who make the time to have those conversations. Everybody wins.”