Dr. Douglas MacAyeal
Department of Geological Sciences
The University of Chicago
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Presented at 1:40 pm, Tuesday Afternoon, December 10, 2012
Moscone West – Room 2022
The effectiveness of cryospheric science in addressing its main purpose (predicting and assessing response to climate change) is powerfully but intangibly enhanced by the mysterious nature and the remote locations of ice and snow phenomena. Study of the cryosphere, in essence, depends as much on the universal human desire to satisfy curiosity as it does on the fact that cryospheric science informs humanity about the consequences of the environmental changes now clearly visible in all realms of the cryosphere. In my presentation, I shall consider the study of ice-shelf dynamics and stability and shall draw on the perspective of my 37 years of involvement in this small, but important corner of glaciology, to show where curiosity has and continues to be, a major driver of understanding. Joyful moments within the development of ice-shelf glaciology include examples where complete misunderstandings and blind alleys have ironically led to unexpected insight into how related phenomena operate, including: the flow of ice streams, the role of sticky spots, styles, and drivers of iceberg calving, tidewater glacier terminus behavior, the source mechanisms and interpretations of cryospheric related seismic signals, and the dynamics of iceberg-drift-steering ocean circulation in basins separated by mid-ocean ridges. The familiar joke, “Why did the man who lost his keys on a dark night only search underneath the streetlamp?”, is apt for cryospheric science–but with a perverse twist: We cryospheric scientists are more akin to the man who is driven to also grope for the key in the darkness because of the chance that in addition to the key, the car that the key will start might also be found somewhere beyond the glow of the streetlamp.