In October 2017, a group of tired students stared slack jawed out of the windows of a Gornergrat Railway carriage. It was the first time most of us had ever experienced an Alpine environment. I can remember the stunned silence as we took in the landscape. It lasted almost the entire journey, the mountains doing all the talking for us. I didn’t know it at the time, but that moment led me towards my studies with the Alpine Glacier Project.
My name is Zayd Abid-Waheed and I am a PhD student researcher awarded a grant by the Alpine Glacier Project. Whilst I always enjoyed science, I had never undertaken Alpine field research before, so when the opportunity came to be part of the 2017/18 field season I applied. The experiences I had during that trip changed my perspective on the nature of science and the importance of academia.
Reading the original report from 1959 linked to the first ever Alpine Glacier Project expedition that night in Switzerland, I was mistaken to assume that this was just another scientific paper. However, this was something more. This was the start of a legacy, the first step in a journey of scientific dedication and repetition. This blog is about its importance and my own experiences.
Repeatability is fundamental to the scientific method. Replication can prove that results of a single study reflect overall trends. However, glacial system processes are typically slow, with trends on scales of weeks, months, years, decades, centuries and beyond. As such, the long-standing records of the Alpine Glacier Project are so important – they are essential in showing how an alpine valley responds to a changing climate through deglaciation.
My own experience was very different to the 1975/1976 season. Our primary objective was to automate data collection as much as possible. Meters and loggers were installed as well as a general refurbishment of equipment housing. This was my opportunity to get stuck in with more hands-on data collection as had been performed since the 1970’s. Meltwater samples were collected over the course of an afternoon on the hour, every hour. These samples were returned to the David Collins Suite Laboratories at the University of Salford and were analysed.
In addition to the water samples, in the following season the project continued to collect data through the installed loggers. My research added to the historical dataset made available by Professor Collins and the many waves of students that assisted him with project expeditions.
“By using our findings here, we can learn more about other parts of the world, such as the Himalaya, where meltwater availability is critical for hydropower production, irrigation and water resources development, and where floods have devastating impacts on humanity”
This quote from the original mission statement of the Alpine Glacier Project has been one that I’ve referred to on multiple occasions as to why the repetition and legacy of this study is so important to me. The years of study here serve more than being the longest unbroken record. Rather they work in two distinct ways, firstly to inspire and create more researchers with drive and dedication to investigate the unknown, and secondly in the face of a changing climate and a world that remains vulnerable. These research avenues can help humanity understand and mitigate the effects of a warming atmosphere and may leave the world in a better place than how they found it. I hope that through the same vigorous scientific methods of dedication, repetition and good practice that the AGP legacy will continue to inspire through my own studies.