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Brews and glacial views: UF scientists speak on life and research in the Arctic

Yuseung Shin, Jaehyeon Lee, Megan Black and Dr. John Martin play along with the audience in an interactive live quiz during the "Science on Tap: Cheers from the Arctic!" event at Cypress & Grove Brewing Co. (Máté Imre/WUFT News)
Yuseung Shin, Jaehyeon Lee, Megan Black and Dr. John Martin play along with the audience in an interactive live quiz during the "Science on Tap: Cheers from the Arctic!" event at Cypress & Grove Brewing Co. (Máté Imre/WUFT News)

A team of scientists from the University of Florida celebrated their recent Greenland research expedition at a local brewery Wednesday night.

Organized by the Florida Museum, members from the University of Florida Thompson Earth Systems Institute (TESI) and the UF Water Institute met at Cypress & Grove Brewing Co. to cap off their journey to Greenland and share stories from their Arctic adventures with a few dozen attendees.

The event — Science on Tap: Cheers from the Arctic! — was a celebration for the researchers’ final scientific venture into the country and was the first in-person Science on Tap event that TESI created since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We're done going to Greenland as our National Science Foundation grant runs out this summer. So, this event really is […] just a way to kind of connect with our community and talk about what we’re doing and talking about our research in a very simplified and fun way,” said Megan Black, a Ph.D. student with the UF Department of Geological sciences.

Dr. John Martin, a UF professor of geology and the associate chair of geological sciences, started working in Greenland over a decade ago along with Dr. Ellen Martin, UF’s chair of geological sciences and professor, in a separate research project.

Once there, he began to notice different types of watersheds and streams flowing from land. He has since led several field experiments to answer the question of what happens to the land and waters when the mass expanses of glaciers melt and retreat.

Eventually, the 2019 Water Institute Graduate Fellow program offered support to a newly created a cohort consisting of faculty, postdoctoral and graduate students across a variety of disciplines: geology, microbiology, botany, hydrology, ecosystem science, coastal hydrodynamics and communications.

The team’s project called SILA – Significance of Ice-Loss to Landscapes in the Arctic — focused on the changes made by glaciers as they advance and retreat across land, how they change landscapes, ecosystems, and water.

Glaciers, as with the climate, undergo natural fluctuations. Their last peak happened around 15,000 years ago, during a time termed the last glacial maximum, where glaciers covered about 15 times more of Earth’s landscape than today.

“Chemical reactions between the water are draining off the ice sheet and the minerals in the rocks that are present and that changes the water chemistry that drains the ocean which changes ocean chemistry. Gases in the landscapes change and they fade into the atmosphere, which changes atmospheric chemistry, such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide which are all greenhouse gases,” Martin said.

Below, see images from the researchers' trip to Greenalnd. Photos are courtesy of Megan Black.

Studying such changes that happened 15,000 years ago is ever more relevant in today’s world in the face of human-induced climate change.

“A big elephant in the room is sea level rise as the ice sheets retreat. In Greenland right now, sea level is rising about three millimeters a year and maybe more and it’s really ramping up fast because the Arctic is warming much more quickly than average,” Martin said.

As a state that sits very close to sea level, Florida could face severe consequences of such warming from the current trajectories.

Black explained that when the group applied in 2019, they were jumping on the existing research project that Ellen and John Martin had been working on for over a decade.

Once the graduate fellows from the Water Institute joined the research, the National Science Foundation agreed to fund the project, with Dr. John Martin estimating it to be as much as $4 million.

With all pieces set, students and graduate fellows began their explorations into Greenland in 2022.

Living and working in such an isolated country with an extreme climate provided the scientists and students their own unique sets of challenges and memorable experiences.

“I call Greenland, Wyoming meets Denmark. It’s like the Wild West — people carry guns around and they go hunting and fishing, but it’s also super cosmopolitan. It’s got a European vibe,” Martin said.

The team lived and spent much of their time in a dorm-style research facility in Kangerlussuaq, town of 500 people in western Greenland.

The culture shock was apparent and losing the comforts of home and technology was especially challenging.

The lack of roads and no direct flights meant that travel in Greenland happened by boat and flying in C-130 military planes.

While there, the team experienced 24 hours of sunlight. In such a small town they had to make their own fun.

“It’s like being a teenager again when you can’t go out or do anything, so you find your own things to do. One of the things in Kangerlussuaq that we would do is hang out at the dump,” Black joked.

As the town used to be an U.S. military base, the dump was littered with old military vehicles and equipment that some of the scientists would explore and climb as if it was a playground.

Black particularly reveled at trying to teach her fellow researchers how to drive a stick shift, as most of the cars in town were manual.

The town also featured one small grocery store with slim pickings for purchase, other than guns.

Items were shipped to the store every few weeks and in limited quantities and goods such as fresh vegetables would already have signs of browning due to the long journey to import.

“It really feels like you’re so far away from the rest of the world,” Black said.

While they may be done exploring and researching the Arctic, their work is not yet finished as they now work towards compiling their data and publishing their results.

Despite the arduous research and lifestyle adjustments, the team contributed to significant scientific insights and made lasting memories in an experience of a lifetime.

Máté is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing