Thwaites’ Glacier in western Antarctica is reported to be melting more quickly than previously thought, with profound implications for sea level rise across the planet.
Among the ice scientists currently undertaking cutting-edge research in Antarctica are Professor John Woodward and Dr Kate Winter of Northumbria University. This year I shall be working with each of them, and with NUSTEM’s STFC-funded ‘Exploring Extreme Environments’ project, to create a 30 minute poetry and electronic music performance piece with composer Peter Zinovieff, which will explore the science used to expose the secrets underneath the ice. As in our previous performances, poetry, music and visuals will be used to convey this astonishing science to a wide public.
Our piece, provisionally entitled ‘Ice’, will premiere early in 2021, and a scaled-down version will then tour, with performances in poetry and music venues, to Women’s Institutes and other social groups. Please contact me via this site if you are interested in hosting a performance.
Meanwhile, some of my initial work with the scientists has already been widely used by NUSTEM staff with Year 5 students in primary schools in North East England to engage and educate children, and inspire them to learn about science through the arts.
Here’s an example, my first poem for the project, ‘Ice Core’:
Deep ice cores drilled from Antarctica contain bubbles of air 800,000 years old, a record of Earth’s atmosphere and climate change over eight ice ages and at least one mass extinction. I learnt about this from talking to Dr Kate Winter, Baillet Latour Antarctic Fellow at Northumbria University. Although Kate’s own research does not directly involve ice cores, she uses ice penetrating radar and remotely sensed imagery to map the sub-glacial environment and flow dynamics of Antarctic ice streams. Her work helps other scientists to decide where to drill for ice cores.
My poem was photographed (above) by Jonathan Sanderson of NUSTEM in Dr Kate Winter’s office at Northumbria University. The images on the wall include a map of radar lines plotting ice thickness in Antarctica.
My second poem, ‘Invisible Mending’, draws directly on Kate’s own research.
Iron-rich sediments, carried by glaciers from inland areas of the Antarctic to the Southern Ocean, are thought to encourage the growth of microscopic phytoplankton, which help to reduce Carbon Dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. As ice sheets thin in response to climate change, sediment delivery and production could increase. A nunatak is a piece of rock jutting above ice or snow.
Again, my poem was photographed (above) by Jonathan Sanderson of NUSTEM, alongside Dr Kate Winter’s Antarctic sediment samples in the Geography Lab at Northumbria University. The photo shows sediment samples from different Antarctic rock types and locations drying under the fume hood and displayed on the lab bench. They are waiting to be examined for their iron content.
This poem was first published in Planet In Peril (ed. Isabelle Kenyon, Fly On the Wall Press, 2019).
‘Ice’ is my second collaboration with NUSTEM and scientists from Northumbria University, and my fourth with Peter Zinovieff translating the work of research scientists to a non-scientific audience. You can read more science poetry from my earlier projects in my recent Bloodaxe collection, Edge, reviewed HERE in The Guardian.
I’ll be reading from Edge and talking about science and poetry for EXPLORE Lifelong Learning in Newcastle on Friday 31st January, 11.30am – 1.30pm. You can find out more and book HERE.