‘Vanishing Glaciers of Everest’: The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2015

Every summer the The Royal Society hosts a public exhibition of cutting edge science in its London headquarters and this year I was lucky enough to get the chance to take part as part of the presenting team for the ‘Vanishing Glaciers of Everest’ stand.

Our stand was the brainchild of Ann Rowan, a research fellow at Sheffield, and involved the collaboration of five UK universities: Sheffield, Aberystwyth, Leeds, Hertfordshire and Northumbria. Because of the links to my own research group, the Sheffield ICERS (ice & climate), I was drafted in as an additional presenter to help out the Himalayan glacier specialists.

The aim of the exhibition is to engage the public and particularly school children with on-going science across all disciplines. There is a huge variety of stands – ours was the only geography representative and we were competing with everything from nuclear fusion and biomedical science through to plasma rockets and archaeology. There were some fantastic stands on display, most with some sort of interactive element that you could have a play with.

For our part, the main interactive attraction of the ‘Vanishing glaciers’ stand was a big old block of ice that was melting happily and aided us in explaining the variables that affect glacial melt rates. Thankfully the weather was obligingly hot so our ice block rapidly rounded off and started to look convincingly like it was disappearing. The presence of a nice cold block of ice that you could touch turned out to be a big draw in itself as temperatures in central London hit 36oC! Cue all the glaciologists whinging about being too hot. Temperatures around freezing are much more our ideal habitat.

Whilst the ice block was a nice draw, we also had a fantastic stand covered with information and photos, as well as some great 3D images and a 3D printed map of Mount Everest & its environs.

All this stuff was designed to get people talking and asking us questions. This worked magnificently and gave our presenting team of scientists the opportunity to explain how glacier mass balance works and to discuss the impact that future climate change might have on the Himalayan glaciers and hence the rivers & water resources of the Indian Subcontinent and Southern China. Because of the informal nature of the event, visitors also got the chance to ask us about all sorts of other aspects of glaciology. Being more of a palaeoglacial and polar specialist this was great for me because I often got the chance to bring in a little of my own area of expertise into the discussion.

All in all, I had a great time presenting and would thoroughly recommend the event to other scientists. It’s particularly good for us PhD students to have an opportunity to do a bit of outreach and to practice communicating science to a non-technical audience. I certainly learned a lot and I think that it’s very important to get out there and talk to ‘normal’ people about science. It was great to get so much engagement from our visitors and to be asked so many interesting questions.

Even if you don’t find yourself presenting I would still suggest that you go along and have a look at next year’s exhibition. There are some fantastic stands and you’ll certainly learn something new and interesting. Plus you might even get the chance to do a bit of science celebrity spotting – we had the likes of Prof Brian Cox visiting when I was there!

(Thanks to Ann Rowan and Mike Hambrey for the use of their photos. See photo captions for individual credits.)

For more detailed information about the science behind our stand, check out the the ‘Glaciers online’ website: http://swisseduc.ch/glaciers/himalaya/khumbu/index-en.html