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.
‘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.
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.