Welcome to the VeLveT Ice Team Blog

Welcome to the second field campaign of the VeLveT Ice Team. For those who are new, we are researching the connections between the small scale structure of individual ice crystals and the large scale flow of an ice sheet. We will explain more as we go along.

We are heading to Antarctica to study the borehole left from core extraction at the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) coring site. The field camp is about 24 km (15 miles) from the actual divide. Geologically, a divide is an elevated boundary that separates neighboring drainage basins. The WAIS Divide separates ice flowing in opposing directions, mainly out to the Ross Sea and either the Weddell or Amundsen Seas. Divides have slower flow rates than other parts of ice sheets, such as ice streams or glacier tongue. The slower flow rate leaves layers of ice less disturbed, making divides good places for ice core extraction. We will be headed there in early December 2016, but have a lot of work to do between now and then. This involves setting up some tools to stay in touch with students in the U.S. and other parts of the world, and with our other friends and families. This blog is part of that.


My name is Elena Bird. I’m a junior (third year undergraduate student) at Dartmouth College, where I am studying Earth Science. I will be your tour guide (main blogger) during our upcoming trip to Antarctica, so here's a little introduction.

My dad studied geology in college and continues to love it, so I grew up inundated with facts about rock formations, mineral identifications, and mountain ranges. I was born in Andover, MA and split my time between there and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. My family spent a lot of time traveling in places like Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and Wyoming during my childhood. I loved seeing the sweeping stratigraphy of folded sandstone in the southwest and the jagged peaks of the Tetons in Wyoming. Between summers of backpacking trips and winters dedicated to skiing I developed a love for and fascination with the earth and its natural systems.

My appreciation manifested into concern, and I dove into environmentalism through school clubs, internships, and organizations. I was drawn to Earth Sciences because of my interest in climate systems and global climate change. Glaciers and Ice sheets have become particularly interesting to me in part because of their immense influence on climate and ocean circulation, but also I just think ice is super cool!

I began doing research for Professor Rachel Obbard, the Co-PI for the VeLveT Ice Project (The PI, or Principle Investigator, is Professor Erin Pettit, from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks) when I started at Dartmouth. Rachel is a specialist in ice microstructure, and I have been helping her create maps of the crystal orientation of ice samples. (More on that later too.) This is what’s brought me here -- joining the Velvet Ice team, writing this blog, and preparing for a big journey south!

The VeLveT Ice Project

The title of our project is “Collaborative Research: VeLveT Ice - eVoLution of Fabric and Texture in Ice at WAIS Divide, West Antarctica,” and we are funded by the National Science Foundation, Division of Polar Programs. The Velvet Ice team is observing the ways in which ice crystal orientation affects the flow of ice sheets. Ice sheets contain records of Earth’s climate history. Scientists extract ice cores in order to study the layers that make up the ice sheet. The chemistry of the different layers reveals climate history, and the physical properties of the ice - crystal size, shape and orientation – tell us about the englacial environments (in which the layers formed), and both affect and are affected by the flow of the ice. By comparing variations in microstructure (crystal size, shape and orientation) to macrostructural deformation (flow of the ice sheet) we will gain a better understanding of the dynamics and history of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). A better of understanding of this history will improve other scientists’ analysis of the climate records the ice sheet holds. The borehole that remains after the collection of an ice core provides a means to study the large scale flow and deformation of the ice.

The WAIS Divide site was chosen in around 2003, based on what radar surveys told scientists about the relatively flat bedrock and horizontal layers of ice there. Over the years from 2009-2012, a 3405 meter ice core was extracted from the ice sheet. The borehole was left open, the drilling fluid is about the density of ice, and keeps the walls from collapsing. We will use several types of logging instruments, which we will lower into the borehole using a winch. As we lower and later raise the instruments, they will collect data about the borehole geometry and the stratigraphic layers. When we compare this to the borehole data we collected two years ago, we can see how much the ice sheet has moved at each depth.

The Team

The VeLveT Ice Team consists of myself, Professor Erin Pettit (PI), Professor Rachel Obbard (Co-PI), Professor Sridhar Anandakrishnan (PI on a related project), Anny Sainvil, and Emilie Sinkler. PI stands for Principal Investigator. The PI is the team captain, in effect.

Erin Pettit


I am a scientist who explores and studies glaciers and glacierized landscapes to better understand and predict our changing climate and rising seas. My research teams work together and use a variety of tools to measure the movement glaciers, to watch the changes that happen in snow over a day or a week, to listen to cracking a popping of glaciers, to feel and record the

vibrations of ice quakes, and more. These observations helps us understand the flowing, fracturing, melting, and changing of glacier ice all over the world. Art is another means of exploring ideas and observing landscapes that I am passionate about. I like to teach students how art and science overlap and share many concepts about creativity, communication, and learning. In addition to my university teaching, I run a summer program for high school girls called Girls on Ice. We take girls out on field-science expeditions, where they learn, explore, and conduct research with glaciologists, geologists, biologists, mountain guides, and artists. I grew up surrounded by mountains in Seattle, Washington. Exploring these mountains as a kid drew me to combine my love of mountain landscapes with my interest in geology and my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering to get a PhD in glaciology (a branch of geophysics). Because I also lived in Houston, Texas as a kid, which is a flat landscape filled with dense pine forests and slow moving rivers, I grew up with a strong appreciation of the many variations in landscapes on Earth.

Rachel Obbard


I'm a materials scientist and engineer and I teach and do research at Dartmouth College. A materials scientist studies the structure of materials at the microscopic scale, and uses that information to explain and predict the behavior of the materials at much larger scales. I do most of my research on ice sheets and sea ice, but am interested in many different materials. I even teach a course on the materials used in sports equipment. This came about as a result of being an avid snowboarder.

My interests in earth science and in building things were evident early on. I wanted to be a detective when I grew up, but I have a hearing loss, so that wasn't in the cards. I like to think of what I do as a scientist as a kind of detective work. I look for clues and try to use them to tell a story. I feel lucky that I get to look for some of the clues in beautiful and remote places.

When not working, I read, snowboard, bicycle, garden and do puzzles. I live in a cohousing community on a farm in Vermont where we have horses, cows, chickens, sheep, cats, dogs, and a llama.

Sridhar Anandakrishnan


I’m in the Department of Geosciences at Penn State University. I teach introductory geology classes (I use the awesome US National Park system to motivate the class because almost every geologic process is present at some Park or the other, from volcanoes to earthquakes to glaciers.)

I teach “geophysics”. There are a few fundamental physical forces that shape our planet: gravity (what holds us to the surface of the earth), heat (from the sun and from inside the earth), sound, the magnetic field, friction of rocks sliding past each other, and so on. Geophysics is where we put those forces to work for us. We can find out so much about the parts of the Earth we can’t touch and see by using those forces: what causes earthquakes? How about ocean currents? What’s at the center of the Earth? Geophysics helps us answer those questions.

I teach about “ice and climate”: what record do glaciers hold about past climate? What influence will climate change have on glaciers and sea level? And that’s what I’ll get doing at WAIS Divide - looking at the history of the ice sheet and trying to understand how it will respond to the warming climate.

I have too many cats (well, one can never have too many, but some people think 9 might be excessive), a dog, chickens, peacocks, a turkey, bees, and two horses. When they let me, I get on my bicycle and go for long rides. For vacation, I love to hike in the Adirondack Mountains in NY and swim in the beautiful lakes up there. I was born and grew up in India and have a ton of family there and love to visit as often as I can.

Emilie Sinkler


I am a geophysics Ph.D. student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and I research the flow of ice in ice sheets and glaciers. At WAIS Divide, I will be collecting data about how the borehole has changed shape and size over the last two years.

I have been interested in the natural world for as long as I can remember, but my interest in glaciology began midway through college when I took a numerical modeling course that explored glaciological topics like the snow to ice transition on a glacier.

When I am not in the office, you can find me hiking, skiing, reading, or knitting. I don't have any pets, so I am a perpetual dog-sitter and am the proud parent of many plants and a sourdough starter. Like many Fairbanksans, I live in a small "dry" cabin, meaning I don't have running water. My living situation is completely different from anything I have experienced before, but I enjoy living in a place with so many opportunities to get outside and see many amazing icy features like snow, permafrost, and glaciers.

Anny Sainvil


I am a current senior at Smith College majoring in geosciences and government. Throughout my undergraduate years, I've had the pleasure of conducting several research projects that helped me gain a better understanding of what I want to pursue after graduation. The summer before my junior year of college, I conducted research with the Hydrogeology and Geophysics department at the Colorado School of Mines through a program geared toward increasing the diversity in the geosciences called RESESS. We used a geophysical approach to understand how water flows underneath the surface of alpine meadows in Boulder, Colorado. This internship introduced me to geophysics and its many applications. I am particularly interested in reconstructing paleoclimate as a way of understanding climate change.

During the second semester of my junior year, I went abroad to New Zealand and studied at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch. Prior to starting university, I attended a geology field camp with Frontiers Abroad and had the amazing opportunity to explore New Zealand’s beautiful landscape. After going abroad, I participated in an undergraduate research program called the Keck Geology Consortium and conducted research in Iceland. During the project we looked for features that could tell us about the sequence of lava flow events in order to gain a better understanding of the evolution of the land after the Laki Eruption of 1783.

I really enjoy doing fieldwork and gaining exposure to different fields within geology (and I am excited to be going to such a fantastic location for the first time)! I am a lover of the outdoors, traveling, and sports. I grew up in the inner city of New York and would always escape to the mountains of New England during my summers. I was a varsity rower during my first three years at Smith and have been participating in the sport since my early high school years. My love for geology sparked in high school, after I participated in an expedition to Mount Baker with Girls on Ice.