Glaciologist

Heidi is a glaciologist, who obtained her PhD from the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) and University of Oslo. Born in the French Alps, she studied physical geography at Lyon 3, and then at UNIS, the northernmost university on earth. She was awarded her MSc in Glaciology from the Welch university of Aberystwyth. In 2011 Heidi started her PhD on surging glaciers back at UNIS in Svalbard, and her work made the cover of Science Magazine in December 2017. Beside Svalbard, Heidi has done fieldwork in the Himalayas, Greenland, and the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica. After her postdoc at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, she became the host of two series of TV Documentaries: Extreme Earth and Save the Alps. Today Heidi is the Director of Science Communications at International Cryosphere Climate Initiative and works hard to make climate change science more accessible to policy-makers and the general public!

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Meet Heïdi, before the expedition

Hello Heidi!

Where are you right now and where are you originally from?

I am at home in the french Alps which is rather unusual, COVID has forced me to put my traveling on hold for a few months. It's actually been super nice to be home for more than 5 days in a row.

What is your job?

Well I am a Glaciologist, but I have put research aside to focus 100% on science policy and science communication. Today I work as the Director of Science Communication at ICCI, the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, and as a consultant in science communication. Besides my main job, I am leading three outreach projects, Glaciers On The Move, The Last Tropical Glaciers and of course Climate Sentinels!

Can you describe yourself in 3 words?

Passionate, determined and positive.

What does “Climate Sentinels” mean for you?

It means everything to me! This is a passion project we’ve been working on for so long already. This is the way we’re hoping to inspire and empower.

What are you hoping to achieve with this project?

I see Climate Sentinels as the way to break the mold of classic polar research expeditions. We took everything we liked about being field scientists, and changed everything that we think needs changing. To be the biggest goals (not in the right order) are to connect the general public - especially young generations - with science and the polar regions, to collect great samples in a safe manner, and prove that research expeditions can be carbon-neutral.

Is there anything that scares/worries you about the expedition?

Of course! But I find it quite healthy to approach this expedition with a moderate dose of apprehension. Many things can go wrong when we do fieldwork in the polar regions, but I fully trust the experience of the team, and together I am sure we’ll be able to take the right decisions, and be as safe as possible in the field. 

What are you most excited about with this project?

What I always love when we go fieldwork in challenging places is the camaraderie. I really look forward to spending time in the field with these amazing scientists that I am lucky to call friends! I bet we’ll have quite a few stories to tell after the expedition. I also very much look forward to sharing our passion with schools and students! This is what I love the most about being a scientist.

And here's the post-expedition interview!

Hello Heidi!

Where in the world are you, and how has your life changed since the Climate Sentinels expedition?

I’m currently in the french Alps, back from a fantastic expedition with my other project The Last Tropical Glaciers, processing all the data we have collected. Job-wise, I now work full time for AMAP, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme.

If you had to summarize Climate Sentinels in three words, what would these words be?

Testing, heartening, enlightening. It was hard work.

If there was one moment during the expedition that you will never forget, what would that be?

This is an impossible question. There are so many moments I will cherish forever, the good and the bad. I will never forget the relentless storms. I will never forget the day we decided to bury ourselves in the snow to avoid losing our tents. The first day we didn’t suffer from the horrible weather. The time we had to run away from the bear. The evenings in the tents reading text messages from our friends that made us laugh to tears or that motivated us to continue. The incredible, incredible amount of help we got from our friends in Svalbard. The cabins, the downhills, the slow-changing landscapes and ever disappointing pingos. All and all, I’ll never forget the grit, empathy and kindness that my teammates showed during this expedition.

During your pre-expedition interview you mentioned that a few things worried you about the expedition. In hindsight, what has been the worst/most challenging thing about this trip?

Without a doubt the terrible weather. And of course everything is connected to the weather when you’re outside 24/7: the avalanches, the state of the sea ice, the crevasses, your ability to see what’s around you (bears for example). We simply could not believe it. I think it took me about a week to understand that we were going through something historically abnormal, and that we were probably experiencing the direct impact of climate change. I was shocked to see how quickly Svalbard is changing in response to the climate crisis. Luckily for us, after two weeks of insane weather things started to improve and we were able to finish this expedition with all our fingers and toes. But it was by far the hardest thing I have ever done..

What have you learned from this expedition?

The one thing that transpired throughout the expedition is the empathy, unselfishness of the team. I have learned a lot from them, but also a lot about myself and how far one can be pushed to survive in these conditions. I have also learnt that climate change is already profoundly disturbing the Arctic environment, way beyond what I already knew. 

Would you like to embark on another expedition with these crazy ladies again? And if yes where?

In a heartbeat! Time is flying, and I would love to embark on another expedition with those amazing ladies. It’s only a matter of time before we meet again at another far corner of the world. 

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