Tales from the Arctic: An Ice Core Scientist's Summer

Trail Butter Pros are incredibly accomplished in their fields. Whether as mountain athletes, adventure photographers, long-haul cyclists or - in Alison Criscitiello's case - an ice core scientist!

Ever wonder what summer is like for people who study frozen things? Curious as to what an ice core even is? We've got some of those answers for ya!

What's an ice core? Ice cores are cylinders of ice drilled from ice sheets and glaciers. They are essentially frozen time capsules that allow scientists to reconstruct climate far into the past. Alison and her team uncover the stories ice cores have to tell us about the climate and how it's changed over a very, very, very long time. Here's where we try super hard to avoid the 'Sounds cool, right?' dad joke.

Take a peek into what Alison's Summer 2023 was like way up north. Alison describes herself, amongst many other things, as a 'lover of all things cold.' You'll see why that may be a requirement in her line of work below!

First stop: Nunavut. Skidoo'ing up the steep terminus of the Thompson Glacier toward one of our shallow ice coring sites on Axel Heiberg Island, in the far north of the Canadian high Arctic.

All smiles as we pulled the first cores up at a high-elevation site.

Distinct melt features in the cores, even this far north in the Arctic. We will be reconstructing new climate histories from these ice cores.

All work and no play? Never! When the drilling was done, we skied up-glacier to the headwall for some perfect turns.

Down by the coast in Expedition Fiord, we skied among wolf tracks as we listened to them howl in canyons nearby. Seals popped out of their holes onto the sea ice.

Flying off Axel Heiberg Island, perhaps the most magical island of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

After fieldwork on Axel, I headed to Churchill to teach an Arctic field course for National Geographic Student Travel. An incredible week among beautiful people, landscapes, and of course polar bears.

Shortly after returning home from Churchill, it was off to the Greenland Ice Sheet with me. This is EastGRIP, a Danish-led, other-worldly deep drilling project in its sixth and final year.

Eemian ice in the under-ice-sheet core processing room! The Eemian refers to the last interglacial period prior to the start of the last glacial period (~115,000 years ago). That's some old ice.

Sometimes things go sideways with the deep drill, and petite climbers get sent down the drill trench to fix them.😂 I actually love going down into the drill slot. The day this photo was taken, the drill was around 2660m (8727 feet) deep.

After flying off the ice cap and finding myself back in Kangerlussuaq, I had a day to myself. I decided to run the length of the longest road in Greenland - from Point 660 (near Russell Glacier) to Kangerlussuaq. A gorgeous 38km (23.5 mile) dirt road that winds among glaciers and muskox.


And that's a wrap on Alison's summer. Next up, training for a Rim-2-Rim-2-Rim adventure in the Grand Canyon! Quite a different scene than the arctic tundra...

Best of luck, Alison! 

All photos courtesy of Alison Criscitiello.

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