Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan

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Alumna Catherine Walker conducts research in Antarctica

Posted: April 3, 2015

Alumna Catherine Walker conducts research in Antarctica

Dr. Catherine Walker (PhD ’13) recently traveled to the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica to explore the underside of ice shelves.

Walker is a Post Doctoral Fellow for Assistant Professor Britney Schmidt at Georgia Tech. Walker participated in the Antarctica field season from October through December 2014, deploying AUV/ROV (autonomous underwater vehicle/remotely operated vehicle) submersibles beneath the shelf.

According to the Georgia Tech magazine Research Horizons, Schmidt’s team has been trying to figure out how ice shelves interact with the ocean, a process that’s poorly understood. These are the first explorations of their kind.

Walker’s PhD advisor was Assistant Professor Jeremy Bassis, whom she says “always set a high standard for work to be done.” She adds, “I think the rigorous training and expectations in grad school set me up to have the same work ethic going forward into my solo postdoc career.”

When asked what was the most exciting thing about conducting research in Antarctica, Walker said, “I spent a lot of time in graduate school looking at the Antarctic through satellite imagery. Because of that, the most exciting thing was to step off the large U.S. Air Force plane on the McMurdo Ice Shelf and think to myself, ‘This is Antarctica in real life!’”

“Something that I’ll always remember is Thanksgiving Day,” Walker continues. “It was just four of us out on the ice shelf for 35 hours or so, straight no sleep, sending this submersible into the dark ocean under the ice shelf. We were so removed from everything; about 25 miles from the next nearest person and it was so quiet, aside from our equipment. We watched the camera feed from inside the tent - darkness, darkness, darkness… then suddenly, a shape on the sonar! We had reached the seafloor, something no one had seen before. It was about 500 meters below, and we saw sea stars, giant (foot-long) shrimp, anemones, things like that, just swimming around under Antarctica. It was incredibly isolating but so exciting at the same time.”

To read more about the research in Antarctica, please visit Research Horizons.

(Photo Credit: Jacob Buffo)

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