Icebergs Alive!

In the first of our Ice Alive grantee blog posts, Pixel Movers and Makers present their amazing polar art and data vizualisation work. Over to you, Marlo…!

We present to you, ICEBERGS ALIVE!

We put this together one weekend late last year. One Saturday afternoon, I direct-messaged Kev via Twitter to ask him whether—if I supplied a painting of Antarctica—he could use iceberg data to create an animation that would show the flux of icebergs around Antarctica over time. And, of course, he jumped right in. (That’s what Kev does, and it’s one of numerous reasons we work so well together.) By Sunday evening, we had created Icebergs Alive.

We named it Icebergs Alive because... Antarctic icebergs… ALIVE! In truth, “Icebergs Alive” is a homage to Ice Alive, to acknowledge their significant role in helping us achieve what we have over the last year.

Who are we? We’re Marlo Garnsworthy and Kevin Pluck, an Aussie in the US and a Kiwi in the UK who met on Twitter, discovered a mutual passion for polar ice, and quickly became a team and friends. In fact, today is the one-year anniversary of us founding Pixel Movers And Makers, our joint creative science communication venture.

Mid-year, Ice Alive awarded us a grant. It not only helped fund the software we use and paid for me to go to the WAIS (West Antarctic Ice Sheet) Workshop, it gave us an enormous boost of confidence. Like-minded people could see the value in what we were attempting to do, and that was so affirming.

As well as making Icebergs Alive—which has been shown and published all over the world, from EARTHER to the Weather Channel to NASA Goddard—we’ve made a host of other polar ice- and Climate Change-inspired creations.

We made this one for the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration meeting. Each penguin is named after one of their projects.

We were also honored to present a poster about online science communication at the WAIS Workshop (a wonderful experience I have written about elsewhere).

Kev has continued to wow the Internet with his data visualizations. Not only are they informative, they are beautiful, and I’m forever astounded by his numbery-jiggery. He was long-listed for the Kantar Data is Beautiful awards and has numerous scientists clamoring to collaborate.

My work for Pixel has been a little waylaid by a book illustration job, but I continue to make icy art when I have a spare second.

I’ve also created graphics for a glaciology paper (soon to be published) and worked with other polar researchers in an editorial capacity.

Whether attending workshops, reading papers (happily supplied by our growing list of cryo-allies), or communicating with polar researchers, Kev and I have continued to learn about the cryosphere. My passion and concern for polar ice ever intensifies, and I’m certain Kev will say the same. There’s nothing I’d rather think, paint, write, talk, or make animations about. Or worry about—because we both do more than enough of that, too.

As I write this, I am on a train to New York City, from where I’ll fly to southern Chile and board the JOIDES Resolution as Education & Outreach Officer for Expedition 382, Iceberg Alley, delving into the long-term history of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. Tomorrow, one of Kev’s animations with Thwaites Glacier data will be published in Rolling Stone to accompany journalist Jeff Goodell’s latest missive from NBP 19-02, as part of the THOR expedition, one of the projects in the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration.

These are amazing ways to celebrate Pixel’s first birthday. We’ve come a long way over the last year, and we’re so grateful for the part Ice Alive has played in making this happen. We’re excited about what we’ll make this year!

Marlo Garnsworthy (@MarloWordyBirdy)

National Geographic Explorer's Festival, London

February 2019 saw the National Geographic Explorer’s Festival in London. The multi-day event included talks from emerging explorers, science communication bootcamps, photography training and networking events. On the final day, our co-founder Joseph Cook spoke to the festival about the AI for Earth project and sat on a panel discussing barriers and opportunities relating to AI techologies for conservation. The event was livestreamed and can now be watched back. Our session begins at 1:32:00 and runs until 2:13:00 but there are a whole range of amazing talks covering a range of topics from animal tracking to ocean plastics and summiting everest.

AI for Earth

On Tuesday, Microsoft and National Geographic announced that eleven grantees would receive support from their AI for Earth Innovation Grant – we are delighted to report that our co-director Joseph Cook is one of them. We are looking forward to communicating the progress and outcomes of the project via our Ice Alive channels! Here’s what Joe had to say about the project.


Test flights during a pilot study in Svalbard in 2017 (ph Marc latzel/Rolex)

Test flights during a pilot study in Svalbard in 2017 (ph Marc latzel/Rolex)

With over a billion people relying on glaciers for freshwater for drinking, irrigating crops and hydropower, and Arctic ice dynamics influencing global weather and exacerbating natural hazards over major population centres, melting glaciers affect us all. By feeding back into climate change, glacier loss amplifies an existential threat to humankind.

Despite this, we still have a relatively crude understanding of the complex processes driving glaciers to melt, and how this varies over space and time. I think it’s strange and problematic that we have far less understanding of ice than we do for snow. This knowledge dark spot imposes a severe limit on our ability to manage and mitigate glacier loss. Thankfully, the technology now exists to address this problem, but we are overdue in applying it.

In this new project I have teamed up with UK tech company Flyingcarpet to make use of their new decentralised drone technology that will allow us to survey glaciers at unprecedented levels of detail. I’ll develop algorithms that will look at the drone images and learn how to translate them into useful maps that show where various processes are occurring on the ice surface and then apply that skill to satellite imagery. Doing this regularly will allow us to see how glaciers are changing over time, capturing not only how much darkening and melting occurs, but what processes are causing it. Using Microsoft’s cloud computing platform will enable me to do this at scale, aiming to apply the algorithms to wide areas of the cryosphere and really monitor how Earth’s ice surfaces are changing in our overheated world.

I have also partnered with Chris Powell, an educator from the UK who will help to produce curriculum-relevant teaching materials for secondary school students that will be made open source and distributed to schools within and outside the UK. The aim will be to inspire a new generation of thinkers to work at the confluence of computer and environmental sciences.

Partnerships with large organisations like Microsoft are critical, and so is engaging new young thinkers, many of whom are “digital natives” who will eventually lead the fight against climate change and other giant issues.

I can’t wait to get stuck in to the project, and it will be a pleasure to communicate it through Ice Alive!