Robin Bell and the physics of glaciology

Running a small business

Robin Bell and her colleagues found a volcano under the Antarctic Ice Sheet and water freezing onto the bottom of kms-thick ice. She championed the idea that glaciology needed instrumentation capable of observing the full ice sheet — from surface to base — all at the same time. To this end, she bolted ship-based gear on a small plane and … tried it out. And it worked! And continues to work, all in support of the massive question of trying to figure out how the ice sheets will behave in warming world, and what sea levels will be in the coming decades to centuries.

Science, for Robin, is like running a small business, where the currency is ideas. We discuss how she’s worked, for decades, to increase the value of that currency in many ways, ranging from high-risk field work and instrumentation development to community building through committee work and some careful strategic planning.

Robin and I talk about her early days in Antarctica, when the science world was a different place and she and other female scientists were often mistaken for secretaries. It wasn’t always an easy place to work.

The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory had no female faculty when Robin arrived over 30 years ago. She worked with the NSF Advance program to strengthen gender diversity and found that “running a field program in Antarctica was a piece of cake compared to trying to get people to think about diversity.” But years of effort have paid off, and Robin seems genuinely thrilled at the improvements for women in science.

Also, Robin showed up for a job interview at Woods Hole in a sailboat. Now that’s style!

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