Glasser Glacier: An Interview with Prof Neil Glasser

by Heather Crumpton

Earlier this year an Antarctic glacier was named after Professor Neil Glasser of Aberystwyth University. I recently had the wonderful opportunity to interview Prof Glasser on his experiences working in the Antarctic and the naming of Glasser Glacier. Originally joining the Geography department as a Lecturer in 1999, he worked his way up towards his current position as the Director of the Institute of Geography, History, Politics and Psychology. His interest in glaciers was sparked during university, most notably due to a third year module on glaciers and landscape. Throughout his career in glaciology, a major inspiration was the glacial geomorphologist David Sugden, whose enthusiasm and collaborative personality inspired Glasser as he began to work with more people and take on leadership roles within academia.

Glasser Glacier, James Ross Island. Image courtesy of Bethan Davies.

Glasser Glacier, James Ross Island. Image courtesy of Bethan Davies.

‘A Brilliant Experience’

Glasser first went to Antarctica in 2004 with a New Zealand team, working at the Scott Base close to the McMurdo American base. A grant from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) funded a second seven week excursion to the Antarctic Peninsula in 2011. It takes a long time to organise Antarctic research, since everything has to be planned a long time in advance.  On this occasion the trip was postponed and almost cancelled due to a lack of emergency contingency plans. While BAS were able to drop off the team and pick them up seven weeks later, there was no facility for getting someone to hospital in the event of serious injury. A nearby Argentinian base could provide helicopters but this required an agreement from Argentina and the request had to pass through diplomatic networks. Ultimately the agreement went through after months of correspondence between countries. Although diplomatic policies can drag out the process, countries are usually happy to offer aid to others. “It’s part of the Antarctic ethos to help each other out. We help them, they help you”, Glasser explained.

A map showing the location of Glasser Glacier. Image courtesy of Prof. Neil Glasser.

A map showing the location of Glasser Glacier. Image courtesy of Prof. Neil Glasser.

He spent seven weeks on James Ross Island in a team of four, camped at Monolith Lake. Sunny weather greeted them, before settling into an alternating pattern of snowstorms and clear weather. Glasser described the trip as a brilliant experience, noting that the good weather likely contributed. The project had several objectives, including the mapping and dating of granite erratic boulders. James Ross Island itself is composed of volcanic rock, but during the Last Glacial Maximum ice crossed over the island, depositing granite erratic boulders onto the island from the mainland. Another objective was data collection at Whisky Glacier to constrain a numerical model of changing ice extent. During their stay, the team spent a lot of time working on a glacier on the Lachman Crags. At the time, all of their maps and research referred to it simply as ‘unnamed glacier’. While in the field, they all joked about naming it one day. However, after they returned from the fieldwork one of the team put Glasser’s name forward as a suggested name for the Glacier without him knowing.

‘I was well chuffed’

He was very pleased when he received a letter in January of this year confirming the name Glasser Glacier for British use. “Because we joked about it, I never thought it would actually happen”, Glasser said. The naming process involved the BAS Antarctic Place-names Committee, who approved the application. The new name for the glacier can be used for all new maps and publications, and will soon be added to the British Antarctic Territory Gazetteer (available at http://apc.antarctica.ac.uk/gazetteers/). When asked about the naming process, he said “It is quite an honour, since a lot of glaciers are named after famous explorers and scientists. [Though] it is unusual because they do not usually name glaciers after living people. It’s certainly an achievement. You can write all the publications and do all the research, but ultimately somewhere in the world is named after you. After I’m gone, it will still be there. So it’s quite a big thing.”

Sadly, Prof. Glasser currently has no plans to return to Glasser Glacier. However, he is preparing to return to a different area of Antarctica this upcoming winter in cooperation with Sweden. This time he will be further inland sampling for former ice extent, away from the warmer ‘banana belt’ of his 2011 trip.

 

Research Excellence Framework- ‘It’s quite a complicated beast’

by Sara Elizabeth Fisher

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is probably not a concept well known to students, perhaps deeming the research conducted by departments somewhat detached from our own education. However, Aberystwyth’s recent performance in the REF suggests that not only should we be aware of what it is and its impacts but we should also be proud to be taught at such an institution. I spoke to Professor Colin McInnes who leads the Research Excellence Framework for Aberystwyth University. So what exactly is the REF?

‘Every 5 years all departments in all universities are given the chance to have their research quality assessed and the benefits of having this are twofold. Firstly profile and peer recognition, if you do well you are seen as being a strong and successful department in research terms and secondly the money, there is money attached to how well you do’.

This REF is measured by three main areas; the first is quality of the research, the second is the research environment and thirdly the impact of the research. A composite score is given of the three areas. The last submissions went in November, 2014, however departments within the university start preparing for the submission on average ten months before the assessment. This year’s results were released in December. Participating in the REF is a sign of departmental strength. So how did Aberystwyth do?

‘We did roughly as expected. We can’t compete with the large, science intensive universities we are just not big enough, we don’t get the same grant capture, the same quantity of staff going in. So if you compare us to a Manchester or an Imperial College London we are not going to do as well simply because of size and subject mix. If you take that into account we were very satisfied with how we did. We maintained our position, which is probably punching a bit above what we would consider our natural position’.

However, some departments within the university did extremely well, with one of those departments being Geography and Earth Sciences which ‘did better than last time and matched our expectations within the department. In other words we thought the department was very strong and we thought it should do very well. Our hopes were realized when the results came out so we did very well’.

At this point many people will be asking why this matters to students and why we should take notice of such frameworks. This is an important factor for students as post-graduation we will be recognised as coming from a good department and we can take pride in being part of a research leading institution. Perhaps the most obvious and attractive benefit of doing well is that high achieving departments attract quality staff and as a result the teaching is somewhat cutting edge, learning what is new and important in Geography. As Professor Colin McInnes states ‘the REF is one of the key indicators to how good a department is’. There is also a financial incentive to doing well in the REF, often six figure grants are made in the light of good results and this has a positive impact on student experience and opportunities at the university.

Research counts and research speaks, perhaps understanding more of what happens outside the narrow confines of our degree will teach us to perhaps value our experience on a different level. It is easy to judge a university on location and rankings on various things but I would argue that a closer look at the actual output of a department is an extremely strong representation of what your degree will be like. From my perspective my three years studying Human Geography has been extremely interesting. It far surpassed my expectations. Many of my friends have remarked on how varied my modules are, studying underground art, monuments and world religions is typical. The type and quality of research produced in the Geography department, I believe is in evidence in the modules provided and the enjoyment of the degree we study.