A bear’s eye view

Our blog has been dormant for the best part of six months. That’s not because we haven’t been up to much though. In fact it’s been a very busy spell at Cryoconite Towers. We have been quietly working on samples and data from our last season on Svalbard – and preparing for this summer’s fieldwork. I thought the best way of offering a catchup is from the perspective of team member @icybear79

Who is @icybear79?

In a nutshell, icy bear is smarter than the average bear of little brain. Often thought to be Arwyn Edwards, Tris Irvine-Fynn or Sara Rassner (although they are some of “his people”), icy bear’s origins are shrouded in the mysterious north and will remain a secret as dark and chilling as a particularly filthy cryoconite hole. Icy bear first materialized at Aberystwyth as part of an exhibition on Climate Change last year.

polar bear

It seems wherever ice is in crisis, icy bear is there.

It only seemed fair to bring icy bear with us to Svalbard last year as part our NERC project on glacier ecology


To his credit, icy bear became our constant companion in the field IMGP1037 IMGP1049 IMGP1042 IMGP1005

Icy bear soon became insufferable yet inseparable while on fieldwork – pictured here with Dr Tris Irvine-Fynn and Professor Nozomu Takeuchi.

All too soon it was time for the Aber cryo team to return to the UK. It’s fair to say @icybear79 is at home in the field, but he was soon to become a telly academic in his own right


Appearing on daytime S4C…


…Outreach events…


…and scientific conferences, ranging from the International Glaciological Society’s British Branch, to the ASB Life in the Cold Workshop at Leeds, before reaching the dizzy heights of the Cambrian News


and ITV Wales, as our paper on the surprising microbial abundance of glacier surfaces was published.

But of course – remember that wherever ice is in crisis, icy bear is there. By April it was high time for icy bear to head out again (having broken our lab’s ice machine)


Icy bear first headed South. Further South than any bear had been before.




All the way south to South Island, New Zealand to help with teaching a Geography fieldcourse and looking at evidence of an outburst flood as part of a British Society of Geomorphology fieldwork grant.

As I write this, icybear79 is in Kathmandu in Nepal getting ready to head up to the Khumbu as part of a Royal Society project team looking at glaciers in the Himalaya. Hear the team’s leader, Dr. Ann Rowan, talk on BBC Radio 4 about the planned fieldwork. Icy bear (along with helper Tris Irvine-Fynn) will be looking at the hydrochemistry and maybe some microbiology while they’re there.

Tris will be taking icy bear to Arctic Canada next, where glaciers are changing rapidly, and will be working on a Climate Change Consortium of Wales project led by TrisIMGP0522_smallTris Irvine-Fynn and Arwyn Edwards  extracting a shallow ice core from a glacier. Expect more of this kind of thing!

Meanwhile, Arwyn will be heading to Svalbard for a week at UNIS. Unfortunately, they say you can never go home, and this is the case for Icy Bear too, so he’ll stay in Canada for the duration.


Instead, Tris will bring him with his ice corer to join Arwyn and Dr Joe Cook as part of another Royal Society project, this time in Greenland. Arwyn, Joe and Tris will be camping inland on the Greenland ice sheet to look at glacier ecology in some more detail. The team are joining forces with the DarkSnow collective to study interactions between microbes, melt and pollution on Greenland.  Have a read of Greenland guru Professor Jason Box’s blog about the Dark Snow 2014 project to find out more.

We (Icy Bear, Tris, Arwyn) will head straight from Greenland to join up with PhD students Ottavia & Stephen in Tarfala, in Northern Sweden as part of a EU FP7 InterAct project based there. After a few days’ respite, we then plan to head to finish off the season in the Alps.

After all of this, we may all be roundly sick of glaciers and fieldwork. But there will be no rest for the wicked, and Icy Bear won’t get any time off either. Pretty soon after all of this, Arwyn and Icy Bear will be heading to South Georgia as part of a collaboration with the Natural History Museum and National Geographic to examine its fragile glacial ecosystems.  Finally, just today we received a request for Icy Bear’s very particular skill sets in Drønning Maud Land as part of a UK-US-Swedish project involving Aberystwyth’s Professor Neil Glasser in 2015-6.

It really does look like we’ll be un-bear-ably busy….





About Aber Cryoconite

Senior Lecturer in Microbiology at Aberystwyth University, Wales, UK. Research interest: polar and alpine microbiology. Views my own.
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