#OffTheWater with Rebecca Dell




#OffTheWater with Rebecca Dell – how one book inspired her

When I was younger, I read a book called ‘Antarctica, An Intimate Portrait of the World’s Most Mysterious Continent’ by Gabrielle Walker.  The author had obtained a PhD in Natural Sciences at Cambridge University.  After the first chapter I was hooked.  By the end of the book, I had decided that I was going to become a scientist, and travel to Antarctica.


Now, I am a PhD student at the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI). SPRI was founded in 1920, and was the first centre for Polar Research at Cambridge University. Today, the institute comprises a Polar Museum, a Polar Reference Library, and a Research Centre.


My role at SPRI is within the research centre.  I work with other glaciologists to better constrain the (in)stability of Antarctica’s ice-shelves. This is a pretty important task.   The ice-shelves fringe 75 % of Antarctica, and restrict the flow of inland, grounded ice into the oceans, therefore restricting sea-level rise contributions!


I only have one problem… without spending my entire PhD doing fieldwork in Antarctica (which would mean no rowing with CUW), how can I research ice-shelf instability? Luckily, satellite imagery from both NASA and the European Space Agency solves this! I feed satellite images into a series of algorithms that we have developed to track the development of surface and subsurface water across these ice-shelves. From this, I obtain data on melt season length, melt-water distribution, and melt water volume.


For now, most of my research is within Cambridge on my computer. However, I occasionally get to travel further afield for fieldwork. This summer, I took part in a Remote Sensing Training Course with the European Space Agency in Svalbard, where I learnt a series of methods that allow me to interpret their satellite images!


Looking back, it is amazing to see how one book was able to shape my life so much. As I look forward, I am excited to continue my research. Hopefully the next time I am writing one of these articles, it will be from an Antarctic Base Camp!


Rebecca rowed at Durham as an undergraduate and also took a Masters at Newcastle where she did enjoyed triathlon.