Thale Damm-Johnsen

Durham University

Thale Damm-Johnsen reviews 'Ice Rivers' by Jemma Wadham

A letter to the ice

I remember the first time I sat foot on a glacier. The thrill of knowing that I was standing on something massive, crevassed, that also moved slowly under my feet left me with a sense of awe-inspiring fear. For me that was a feeling that filled my whole torso, made my knees go weak and made every trivial thought I had in my head to vanish. There are few other things that can forge that feeling, but Jemmas Ice River manages to recreate it, through a glistering language and with a mesmerizing talent for storytelling , that manages to connect the world of humans to the world of glaciers.

But if you thought Ice Rivers is a book solely about glaciers, you are mistaken. It is also a book about a girl finding her path in life, after a challenging childhood in north of Scotland. As a master student, she is almost by coincidence brought on a field expedition to the Swizz alps and she experiences a love at first sight, not just for the moving mass of ice hanging down the mountain sides, but also to the work, the people and to the millions of questions that it is unavoidable to pose, when catching a glimpse of a glacier.

Throughout the book we follow her on daring expeditions to Svalbard, Greenland, Himalaya, Patagonia and Antarctica, and woven into these glacier-meetings are stories from Jemmas personal and scientific life, and there are rarely much divergence between the two. As we increasingly get to know the glaciers she is researching, and their cause and effect on the surrounding environment, we get to know Jemma. Her honesty about the ups and downs in her life is inspiring – as a reader you immediately feel trusted, as a good friend. She vividly describes great friendships and the feeling of reward after a great field season is over, however she attempts in no way to rose paint how difficult it sometimes can be. The physically exhausting fieldwork, how endeavoring and sometimes right-out dangerous glacier research can be. She also describes how she ventures into a workaholic-lifestyle, that takes her to Antarctica at a time when her mother gets sick and eventually is close to killing her.

I dare say, whether you are a senior glaciologist or just locked eyes on the book because of its striking turquoise cover: when turning the last page of this book you will have a better understanding of the world of glaciers than you did when opening it. How vital and diminishing glaciers can be to life both in the ocean and on land, and also about the secret life within and underneath the glacier itself.

Alt ending 1 (have I taken this from the book?)
What dawned on me after reading the book, is that glaciers are a bit like people: conditioned by a certain set of physical and chemical laws, influenced by a changing environment, as well as consisting of billions and billions of microorganisms. Whether or not this metaphor was Jemma Wadhams intention is hard to say, but what it does, is creating an immediate connection to the wild world of ice.

Alt end 2.
Earths glaciers are, with very few exemptions, shrinking, changing and disintegrating at a massive rate by the rising global temperatures, and there is a prominent possibility that they won’t be around for future generations to witness. If the future of glacier is as grim as we suspect and we are exceeding a global temperature window where glaciers no longer will be present on this earth, at least we’ll have Ice Rivers – giving a glimpse of a feeling only a glacier can create.

Ending alt 3.
If you are an aspiring climate scientist and find yourself on a normal and potentially stressful weekday, in doubt about why you are studying glaciers. Ice Rivers provide as an excellent reminder, and I would recommend to have a copy with in close reach at your desk



Now taking applications for the UKPN Committee 2022-23

It’s that time of year again! We are looking for new members on our 2022/23 committee. The following roles are available: 
Outreach Officer (Events) - See for more details.
Co-head of Education and Outreach (Outreach team) - See for more details.
Outreach officer (Antarctic Flags) - See for more details. 
Social media officer - See for more details.
Webmaster (Social media team) (New role!) - See for more details. 
EDI Officers - for more details 
Training Officer (New role!) - See for more details
Along the top of the poster, headshots of 3 of our current committee members wearing hats with the UKPN polar bear and penguin logo in Antarctica, Svalbard and Greenland. In the center, the UKPN logo on a black background with white text reading 'UKPN Committee 2022-23 - Applications Open'. Along the base, 4 smiling UKPN committee members in front of trees and rainbow bunting. The background of the image is the Northern Lights.
This could be you!

We welcome a diverse range of people and all you need is enthusiasm! PhD students, post-docs, masters students and non-academics are all happily accepted. Most of the roles have handover notes from the previous volunteers, and the committee is on hand to support. 

Being part of the UKPN is the perfect way to expand your polar network, hear of unique opportunities first, develop your skills, help other early career researchers, and – of course – it’s a load of fun. The UKPN is present at national and international events alongside local officials, governments, and leading scientists.
Please apply for one (or few) of the available positions via the form by Sunday, 25th September 2022. Please email if you have any questions.
We are looking forward to receiving your applications!
Best wishes,
Floor and Saule
UKPN co-presidents 2021-2022





Antarctic Flags Project 2021-2022 Round-up

It is has been another great year for our ‘flagship’ international outreach project, which pairs schools with scientists and support personnel travelling to Antarctica, who carry copies of flags designed by students to fly on the continent, returning photos and certificates to the schools upon the conclusion of their expeditions.

2021 marked our tenth anniversary of the project, and we were delighted again this year with the interest and involvement we received! Most Antarctic research programs were up and running again post-Covid-19, meaning there were plenty of scientists and operations staff heading South. We sent 176 flags to Antarctica from 138 schools in 9 countries, including UK, Greece, Portugal, Hong Kong, Spain, Romania, Poland, Uganda and Thailand! Most flags have now made their journey back from Antarctica to the schools eagerly awaiting their return.

A selection of flags designed by schools across the globe to celebrate Antarctica. Credit: UK Polar Network


The project takes place as a celebration of Antarctica Day, which marks the signing of the Antarctic Treaty on December 1st 1959, a document declaring that Antarctica would be off limits to military activity and setting it aside as a place for peace and scientific discoveries. Since 2010, December 1st has been celebrated each year to mark this milestone of peace and to inspire future decisions.

Some of the flags in Antarctica with research scientists, field assistants, station staff and research ship crew members!

63 years on, the Antarctic Treaty has expanded to include 54 countries and is a rare example of international cooperation. The Treaty governs much of the politics, activities and responsibilities within the Antarctic continent and waters south of 60 degrees latitude. For example, all scientific observations should be made freely available to all researchers, no military bases or weapons testing are allowed, and the dumping or burning of any rubbish is prohibited.

Alongside designing the flags, we encourage schools to learn about Antarctica, its governance and the Treaty in their lessons. This year we received a diverse range of flag designs, from penguins (by far the most popular!), orcas, icebergs and mountains to designs representing peace and international cooperation.

Watch this space for more beautiful flags and more global connections between science, schools and Antarctica. Look out for details on how to take part in our next Antarctic Flags project in October 2022!

For more information about the Antarctic Flags project, read Chapter 11 of ‘Antarcticness: Inspirations and Imaginaries’, published by UCL Press and available at:

Jenny Arthur and Fiona Old (2021-22 Antarctic Flags project coordinators)

Twitter: @UKPolarNetwork, @AntarcticJenny, @fiona_616

Polar Week: Reflections on UKPN Festivals

Background to festivals

The last 2 years have been somewhat uncertain with the pandemic, but the UK Polar Network (UKPN) festivals team have been busy as ever organising online events, as well as gradually returning to in-person ones. There are multiple reasons for UKPN hosting festivals, including delivering scientific communication to the general public and providing a platform to early career researchers to develop their networks and experience.  

UKPN at the National Maritime Museum

In October 2021, coordinators Chloe and Connor organised a festival facilitated by the National Maritime Museum (NMM) in Greenwich, London, with around 10 UKPN volunteers delivering science talks, hosting workshops and guessing where the Titanic sank over a 4-day period. The talks included the volunteers discussing their career as a researcher and polar impacts in a changing climate, with workshops incorporating polar adaptions, glacier flow (cornflour and water!) and dressing up as a polar scientist in field kit. 


Each day started at around 9 am and ended at 4 pm with events running simultaneously. At any one time, the UKPNs 3D polar maps were being adored on the ‘Great Map’ section of the museum, while downstairs talks were taking place, glaciers constructed and animals were being forged by children with some rather interesting adaptions! Seeing the children engaged with the events left us with a ‘this is why we do this’ kind of moment and hopefully, some will remember their experience and be encouraged to continue the passion we saw over the 4 days.

This was our first in-person event since the pandemic struck and we received fantastic feedback from the museum saying visitors returned each day for our activities, bolstering their numbers as well as increasing our visibility to the general public. It would be remiss of us to highlight this event without a mention of our fantastic volunteers who developed materials and ideas prior to the event, as well as delivering the content. We had a range of people, including undergraduate and postgraduate students, PhD and postdoctoral researchers and teachers. For a lot of our volunteers, it was their first experience delivering outreach and they took to it like a duck to water! The reason we’re mentioning this is because we offer volunteering positions all year round to help with science festivals and if you’re interested, please do get in touch and/or keep an eye out on our mailing list for opportunities.

Upcoming festivals for UKPN

Just recently, we hosted 3 online events over 2 days at the Cardiff Science Festival in February 2022. In June of this year, we’re headed down to the Cheltenham Science Festival to deliver 5 polar workshops to both school and home-schooled children, including albedo experiments, Antarctic food webs and a changing Arctic.

Due to the success of the NMM event, we are currently working on making the event an annual one where UKPN can utilise the fantastic space of the museum and have a permeant base for delivering outreach, so stay tuned!

Some of the previous events we have hosted activities at:

  • British Science Festivals (Birmingham, Aberdeen Newcastle)
  • Regional Science Festivals (Dundee, Southampton, Cardiff, Edinburgh)
  • Blue Dot Festival
  • World of Music Arts and Dance

Get in touch

We strongly encourage organisations who are interested in UKPN delivering outreach to their audience to get in touch with us ( As said previously, our volunteers are often the highlight for both the festival and the general public delivering superb scientific communication, so if you are interested in any opportunities, once again get in touch with us, we would love to hear from you!

Reflection on 2021 from UKPN

A little later in the year than we initially planned, but we would still like to take a moment to record and share with you the highlights of all the UKPN activities in 2021. Granted, 2021 may have only been mildly better than 2020 in many respects, and we’ve still had to organise the majority of our events virtually, but we’ll present a few UK Polar Network related highlights here and let you decide for yourself. Stay tuned for our recent updates and future opportunities on our social media pages!

First of all, a new UKPN committee has been formed for the 2021/2022 academic year, and with 40 early career volunteers from across the UK, this is the largest committee in UKPN history! Because new committees can only be successful thanks to the work of past committees, we had our first President symposium in October 2021, in which we brought together committee representatives from more than 10 years of UKPN history (2008-2021) to exchange knowledge and ideas for future directions.

As always, the 2021 Antarctic flags project was very popular: 180 flags were submitted by schools from 9 different countries including Poland, Portugal, Hong Kong and Uganda! To date, 40 flags have been received back from teams who have taken them to Antarctica and more will follow as the Antarctic Summer season progresses. The flags taken down by the RRS Sir David Attenborough even included a fantastic letter from the crew members to the schools.

The Polar Pen Pals project allows students to send letters with questions to polar researchers on subjects that they are currently studying, such as meteorology, zoology and glaciology. So far, 30 schools have signed up, and 6 requests for Skype or in person conferences have been received. 

The 2021 Polar Pride day was a huge success – and an absolute 2021 UKPN highlight! Social media posts about polar pride day reached an audience of 35.7 million people in 70 countries and 14 published news items mentioning Polar Pride reached about 15.7 million people.

The UKPN also organised three online Polar Pint of Science shows in collaboration with the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT) and Pint of Science. The shows ran over three weeks in October in the run-up to COP26 and all three shows had well over 100 live viewers and a total of 2000 views on Youtube. The episodes (Exploration Untold, The Polar Connection: linking past to future, A roadmap for the future: empowering the globe to save the poles) are still available on Youtube, so do have a look!

In collaboration with the National Maritime Museum (NMM) we organised workshops and activities during the Ice Worlds festival in October 2021. Thanks to the excellent work of our 8 ECR volunteers, the workshops such as “make your own polar animal”, “build a glacier”, “polar foodwebs” and “where did the Titanic sink?” received visitors who even returned to the NMM within the 4-day period to attend the workshops for a second time! Sorry you missed it? We will be collaborating with the NMM on other outreach events in the future!

Three webinars were hosted by the Arctic Sciences Priorities (ASPP) UK-Russia early-career researchers’ collaborations for future sustainability in 2021 and 4 more webinars will follow in 2022. Each webinar is live, and involves a discussion (in both English and Russian) and/or presentations on the various challenges faced by UK-Russia scientific collaborations and how to tackle them. You can re-view past webinars on Youtube: Collaborations matter: a webinar on UK-Russia collaborations in Arctic Science, Starting points: funding and networks, You-me understand: how to overcome cultural and language barriers. Or sign up for future webinars through our mailing list and the UK-Russia collaboration website.

The UKPN has also co-organised and attended a number of conferences in 2021 including:

  • the Polar Early Career Conference in May 2021, which was led entirely by ECRs, involved 400 attendees and over 100 presentations and included sessions on various Polar science disciplines, as well as employability workshops, and EDI session, and panels on local knowledge exchange and the impacts of COVID and Brexit on research (which resulted in a Nature article – see also our blogpost on this).
  • The ATOM Science Festival in Oxford, with digital activities, quizzes and QR codes which linked to videos on polar research to accompany a treasure hunt around Oxford.
  • In addition to this, talks which were given, posters presented and workshops co-organised at the Virtual Early Career Ocean Professionals Day 2021, the 2021 Arctic Circle Assembly and the Svalbard Science Forum.

The UKPN organised an online visual design course for early career scientists. During the  one-day course which was given by Infohackit, 24 ECRs learned essential design skills for making science infographics. Hopefully in 2022 we will be able to organise more training courses for our members!

Some other important 2021 highlights included the renovation of our website – doesn’t it look amazing now? - increased collaboration with the newly formed APECS Iceland committee, and support from our EDI officers to various Polar Science networks and activities.

With that, we would like to give a huge applause to our 2020-2021 committee members and the numerous early career scientist volunteers from the UKPN network who have made all of this possible. And we look forward to an equally exciting 2022: note down the Cardiff Science Festival (19 & 20 February) and the Cheltenham Science Festival (June 10th) in your agenda’s, and watch this space (or our newsletter and social media accounts) for more to come!

Interventions to prevent pandemic-driven diversity loss

The Polar Early Career Conference held by the UK Polar Network (UKPN) in May 2021 presented an opportunity to discuss a range of issues affecting early career polar scientists. As part of this conference a panel was held on “Adapting a project post-lockdown”, bringing together PhD students from UK institutions, representing the full diversity of polar topics, from remote sensing, to oceanography, glaciology and social sciences. Writing this post in December 2021, the phrase “post-lockdown” seems rather optimistic in retrospect, however the panel event was well attended and raised a range of issues related to COVID-19 beyond the material impact on research. Panellists and attendees commented on their concerns about career progression, fieldwork cancellations, networking, funding extensions, and the disproportionate impacts on minority groups and international students. Following the conference panel, we noted how we hadn’t seen the issues we raised in the session mentioned elsewhere. The specific impact of COVID on early career scientists, because of the vulnerability of our career stage, meant that only we could accurately comment on how the pandemic had impacted us. To put it simply, if we didn’t speak out about how we had been affected, nobody was going to do it for us. As a team who had been brought together by the UKPN conference we decided to continue this partnership to turn our discussion in to a paper, as a permanent record of our concerns. Over several months we worked with an editor to draft multiple versions of the paper, which, with quite a small word limit, proved to be a rather challenging job. We also welcomed new authors to ensure we captured the full early career perspective by including postdoctoral researchers as well. Our comment  “Interventions to prevent pandemic-driven diversity loss” was published in Nature’s Communications Earth & Environment journal in November 2021 and had been accessed over 1000 times in the first week! The authorship team are grateful to the UKPN for bringing us together from our individual disciplines to form a team and put forward this commentary, which we hope speaks broadly to the experience of all pandemic impacted polar early career scientists.

This contribution is a guest blog post from Ben Fisher & co-authors.

Join us for Antarctica Day 2021!

Are you studying the frozen planet or the poles? Do you want to learn about the Antarctic Treaty and why we celebrate it on Antarctica Day? The UK Polar Network are offering you the opportunity to learn more about this and to design and send an Antarctic flag out down to Antarctica with a fantastic team of polar researchers!

Why celebrate Antarctica Day?

On December 1st 1959, 12 nations signed the Antarctic Treaty, a document declaring that Antarctica would be off limits to military activity and setting it aside as a place for peace and scientific discoveries. Since 2010, December 1st has been celebrated each year to mark this milestone of peace and to inspire future decisions. We hope to extend the celebrations worldwide through our Antarctic Flags initiative, giving new generations the opportunity to learn about the Antarctic Treaty and to share, interpret and cherish the values associated with Antarctica!

Are you a school teacher/ individual interested in sending a flag to Antarctica?

The aim of this initiative is to inspire new generations about the Antarctic and Antarctica Day. We have many school resources, including a class plan and a PowerPoint on how you can introduce the Antarctic and Antarctica Day to your classroom before having your students send their flags south. (If you would like the sample plan in another language, we have also included translations into ChineseFrenchSpanishPortuguese and Dutch).


The idea is that following a lesson(s) on Antarctica, your students design a flag for the Antarctic – as it does not have its own – based on what they have learnt. We would like to emphasise that we can only accept 1 flag per school or classroom, so you could get your students to design their own flags and then select one or your whole class could design one together. Please ask your students to consider their design/colour choices – to be recognisable from a distance and against lots of bright snow, bright colours and designs work best!

We then ask you to send us a pdf of your flags (ideally scanned in rather than photos) and we will match them up with a researcher or engineer who will take them down to Antarctica. You will receive a photo of your flag in Antarctica together with a certificate letting you know which part of the continent your flag travelled to.

So far we have had schools and researchers from over 20 countries involved in the Antarctic flag initiative and we would love to have your school join us this year! If you would like to register your interest, please fill in this form by October 22nd 2021. Following this, we will match school groups with researchers and provide you details of how you can upload your flags (the deadline for this will be the 22nd November 2021 to ensure as many flags as possible are pictured close to Antarctica Day on December 1st).

We are keen to maintain a relationship with the school after so please do get in touch if you would like to organise a visit/ skype with a scientist. Alternatively, get in touch with if you would like to send a letter to a Polar Pen Pal who will be able to answer any questions your class may have about research and life in the field!

Are you a researcher travelling to Antarctica this year (2021 – 2022)?

Please help us!

If you are heading to Antarctica or any of the surrounding Antarctic islands this winter (November – January) please get in touch, we would love your help! All we ask is that you take some flags (however many you are willing to take) sent to you as a pdf or jpg and photograph them in Antarctica as proof that they have made it there. How you choose to do this is totally up to you, you can be as creative as you like! We will then ask you to please send them back to your contact on the UKPN committee who will sort out sending these back to the schools.

Any other questions?

Please get in touch with us at Make sure to follow us on our social media accounts (twitter and facebook) where we will be counting down to Antarctica Day 2021!


UKPN Survey Results - Summer 2021

The latest iteration of our survey of the demographics of the UK Polar Network was undertaken in June 2021. 146 people responded, an increase of 27% from the winter survey. We present a brief summary of these results below. We continue to regularly collect this data in order to understand our membership base and monitor how the demographic of the UKPN changes over time. 

Bar chart showing the age and gender of survey respondents. Apart from the 31-40 category where men dominate, proportions of men and women in each age bracket are relatively even.
Figure 1: Age and Gender composition of the UKPN
Bar chart showing the job type of UKPN Members. Most survey respondents are in academica; almost half are PhD students.
Figure 2: Distribution of survey respondents by occupation

A variety of careers and career stages are represented within the UKPN, including undergraduate students, field technicians, teachers and research scientists; though approximately half the members are PhD students. This is shown in Figure 2, where the “other” category includes people in industry at a variety of career stages, as well as people in technical, governmental and field support roles.  The age range of members spans from 18 (though younger members are welcome) to people in their 60’s. 12% of UKPN Members surveyed have parental responsibilities. Research highlights the perceived incompatibility between parenthood and an academic career (1,2,3) often as a contributing factor to the “leaky pipeline”(4), with appropriate leave and childcare for crucial for recruitment and retention of potential parents, particularly mothers(5).

Figure 3 shows the proportion of survey respondents identifying as LGBQ+ has risen since our last survey. Increasing queer representation in STEM, through initatives such as LBGT STEMinars, Polar Horizons and Polar Pride day (on the 18th of November), though there are still challenges for LGBT inclusion in the Polar Sciences, especially surrounding field research in isolated and sometimes hostile locations (6, 7).  

2 stacked pie-charts, showing the proportion of  LGB self-identified individuals from this (Summer 2021) and the previous survey (Winter 2020). The proportion of bisexual respondants has increased, and the proportion of heteroseuxals decreased between the two surveys. 
Figure 3: LGBQ+ self-identification within the UKPN
Pie chart showing the ethnicity of survey respondents; ~95% are white, with a small number of Black and Asian individuals.   
Figure 4: Ethnicities of survey respondents

6% of Survey respondents are from a Black or Minority Ethnic group (BAME), the same as from our previous survey but the ethnicities represented differs from last time (Figure 4). This is less than half the proportion of BAME individuals in the UK STEM community (8). Over half of BAME individuals surveyed in a recent student of the UK Polar Science community experienced racism in the workplace (9), with barriers surrounding fieldwork also contributing towards negative experiences of people of colour in our field (10). For resources, or to find out more, check out

Members of UKPN speak at least 35 different languages in addition to English (all except English are shown in the word cloud in Figure 5, with the size of the text proportional to the number of speakers).

12% of survey respondents describe themselves as having a disability, with mental health conditions being the most common, in comparison to 19% of the working aged UK population (11). Inaccessible work spaces and workplace cultures (12,13), as well as the emphasis on physically demanding fieldwork (14,15), present challenges to equality for disabled people within our field and thus perceptions of geoscience as unsuitable for people with disabilities are common (16)

To summarise, the polar science community represented by the UKPN is diverse. We are continuing to work towards making the polar sciences an inclusive and accessible environment where people of all backgrounds can thrive. In order to do this, we have recently partnered with EDiG (equity and diversity in geosciences) and have joined the Diversity in Polar Science initiative.

Word cloud showing the languages spoken by UKPN members other than English. French, German and Spanish are most commonly spoken. 
Figure 5: Languages spoken by UKPN members other than English



(1) Crabb & Ekburg, 2014 (
(2) Gonçalves, 2019 (
(3) Burrough, 2021. (
(4) Dubois-Shaik & Fusulier, 2017 (
(5) Morgan et al., 2021 (
(6) Olcott & Downen, 2020 (
(7) Jackson, 2021 (
(8) Equality in higher education: students statistical report 2016  (
(9) Diversity in UK Polar Science: Race Impact Survey Report (
(10) Viglione, 2020 (
Family Resources Survey 2019-20, 2020 (
(12) Lawrence, 2021 (
(13) Horton & Tucker, 2013 (
(14) Hall et al, 2004 (
(15) Tucker & Horton, 2014 (
(16) Atchinson & Libarkin, 2016 (

Polar Pride Day 2021

Poster for Polar Pride Day 2021

Recruiting the 2021/22 committee

It’s that time of year again! We’re looking to fill some positions on our 2021/22 committee. We welcome a diverse range of people and all you need is enthusiasm! PhD students, post-docs, masters students and non-academics are all happily accepted.

Being part of the UKPN is the perfect way to expand your polar network, hear of unique opportunities first, develop your skills, help other early career researchers, and – of course – it’s a load of fun. The UKPN is present at national and international events alongside local officials, governments, and leading scientists.

Each role will have handover notes from the previous volunteer, and the committee is on hand to support. Roles are flexible with the amount of time they require as they can be seasonal, but as a ball-park, plan for two hours a week and a 2-hour meeting every other month. If you want to do more, there will be other projects and tasks available!

Please apply via the form ( by 16th August 2021.