Gwenn Flowers, Ice Adventurer

Gwenn Flowers studies glaciers, their dynamics and their importance in the global climate system. At the moment, she is leading a field-based program in the St. Elias Mountains  of the Yukon to study the interplay of climate and glaciers there.

Click here for Gwenn's research website.

What got you into doing this research?

For me it was the perfect intersection of science and skiing. As a kid, I loved math and science in school. I also spent a lot of time in the mountains with my dad. Toward the end of university, I came across 'glaciology' as an elective course and I was hooked. It's a field that applies the principles of math and physics to understand a fascinating part of our natural world.  It's also a field that takes you to high, remote, cold, stark and beautiful places.

Why is your research important?

Glaciers shape the landscape we live in and are responsible for sculpting some of the most treasured features on Earth. They have been important players in the geologic past, at times taking over the entire planet during periods of 'Snowball Earth'.  Our present-day glaciers and ice sheets are enormous frozen reservoirs of fresh water, harbouring the equivalent of 70m of global sea level rise. Though often out of sight, the way glaciers have changed in the past and will change in the future affects us all.

What do you love about it?

Like all scientists, I love the aspect of discovery, of understanding something for the first time. I also like that, in studying the macroscopic natural world, we can see the objects of our research and some of their impacts on the landscape with our own eyes. At the same time, to understand how glaciers work, we have to rely on measurements of things we can't see: the speed of a glacier, the chemistry of its runoff, the turbulent exchange of energy at its surface. I also love the rhythm of the work, which combines months of computer-based analysis punctuated by weeks of field work where the effort is both physical and intellectual.

Measuring the temperature and density structure of the spring snowpack on a glacier in the Yukon.
Setting up a summer field camp overlooking the Kaskawulsh Glacier, southwest Yukon.