Going Where No Human Has Gone Before
I’m Robin Bell. I’m a research professor here at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, NY.
I study ice sheets and how they’re put together, how the rocks underneath it form, how the ice flows and how the ice sheets are changing.
I came to Lamont because I realized that physics lets you look at how the planet works. You can look at things but if you want to understand how things operate you actually have to make measurements – how fast they happen, what are they made of and physics are a really powerful tool to do that. Lamont was the place that they figured out you could see how the continents drifted apart using physics and I was fortunate enough to come home at a point when ice sheets started to become important. I could use physics to understand how ice sheets work. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to discover things like lakes underneath ice sheets.
I’ve discovered a volcano underneath ice sheets. Not just any volcano, a volcano that’s active so the ice is melting on top of it. Then one of my favorites – I’ve discovered a place where you have an ice sheet sitting on top of a continent, Antarctica, so 2 miles of ice and there’s a mountain range completely hidden by the ice. You couldn’t walk on it, no human being has ever walked on it. We went and we mapped it. We found there was water in the valleys and the water runs uphill in this mountain range. So I think that’s my favorite, the water running uphill and then it freezes back up on the bottom of the ice sheet.
Lamont was a pretty tough place to be a student. When I arrived in the 80s, it was still figuring out, particularly, how to get women to fit in to go into the field, in particular. But I was fortunate to come in when there were some amazing other women beginning the program and finishing the program. Women who are now head of the department at Scripps, who were running major field programs around the world, sending satellites to Europa and to spin around comets. It was that cadre of remarkable, smart women who really helped me through my education here.
Watch an interview with Robin below.