Ph.D. student completes Antarctic research; passes Clark Mountains

February 11, 2011

Unfazed by the East Coast’s record snowfall, Clark University Ph.D. student Luke D. Trusel recently returned from a six-week research expedition based out of a large ice core drilling site on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS Divide) from where he traveled to remote field camps.

Trusel arrived at the U.S. McMurdo Station on Dec. 9. After days of meetings, trainings, and careful packing, he and four others, including a driller from Ice Coring and Drilling Services, boarded a ski-equipped LC-130 cargo plane for the 1,021-mile flight to the WAIS Divide, where they boarded two smaller aircraft that took them to field camps more than 200 miles distant.

“I found being in Antarctica was a great opportunity to acclimate to the cold weather in Worcester right now!” Trusel said. “Joking aside, I had an incredible time and would love to go back. The opportunity for Antarctic glaciological field work is invaluable in addition to being able to interact with established and rising scientists in the field. I consider the trip both personally and academically rewarding.”

Trusel was also pleased to note his flight to the research camp carried him past the Clark Mountains and over the Siple Coast and Siple Dome. Clark’s School of Geography  is the only institution in North America for which a mountain range is named. The Clark Mountains were named by Clark graduate Paul Siple, a renowned geographer and explorer who developed the “wind chill factor.” Siple named the peaks of the Clark Mountains after his faculty instructors: Jones, Atwood, Burnham, Ekblaw, and Van Valkenburg.

Trusel’s Antarctic research involved assisting in processing ice cores in addition to sampling the surface and near-surface snow and “firn.” Firn is snow that has survived on the ground for over a year, but is not yet glacial ice, he explained.

Trusel is a doctoral student of Clark Professor of geography Karen Frey, who has been funded by the NASA Interdisciplinary Research in Earth Science Program. Frey is co-principal investigator on the three-year, $707,112 grant-funded project, collaborating with Sarah Das at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and Matthew Evans at Wheaton College.

The project is a multi-disciplinary effort to broadly understand surface changes in the cryosphere of West Antarctica, with a targeted focus on recently observed change in the climatically sensitive region surrounding the Amundsen Sea sector of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

“The overarching goal of the project is to better understand the interactions between the ocean and adjacent ice sheet through field-based ice coring, which will ultimately be linked back to satellite remote sensing records,” Frey said.

Trusel, who is from Jamestown, NY, received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts/Amherst in 2006, and his master’s from Northern Illinois University in 2009. His doctoral dissertation, “Surface melting, ice layer formation, and ice-ocean-atmosphere linkages: Constraining the variability and implications across the Antarctic Ice Sheet,” focuses on the Antarctic cryosphere as an integrated system at regional to global scales.

Accompanying Trusel on this Antarctic project were Allison Criscitello, a graduate student at MIT/WHOI; University of Washington graduate student Brooke Medley; and Dr. Das, WHOI scientist. Last summer, along with many of the country’s top scientists, Frey, Trusel and fellow Clark Ph.D. student Christie Wood spent weeks aboard an icebreaker in the arctic waters off Alaska’s northern shores, conducting research with the NASA ICESCAPE  expedition.

(All images courtesy Luke D. Trusel)