Demystifying Antarctica: What we’ve learned and what comes next

Professor Helen Fricker

This is a recording of a past event
12 April 2023


Since its discovery in 1840, polar scientists have gone to great lengths to explore Antarctica’s depths. An ice-covered continent the size of the United States and Mexico combined, it has been the site and subject of revelatory scientific studies and awe-inspiring adventures. In its vastness and mysteriousness, it has captured imaginations and has been the source of inspiration for centuries.

The significance of Antarctica’s role in the maintenance of ideal life conditions across the entire planet has since been established. Its ice, ocean and ecosystem play a vital role in the regulation of the global climate. Although many questions remain about its past and its present, particular attention has been turned to the future of its ice sheet. Concerns about its diminishing size have been at the heart of the polarising climate change debate.

In this recording of an online event, Professor Helen Fricker speaks of the physical processes which determine the state of the ice, the transformational impact of satellite observation on her studies as well as the effects that the atmosphere and the oceans have on the ice.

As getting to grips with Antarctica involves a range of specialisms and extensive international collaboration, Helen goes beyond her background in geophysics to provide a comprehensive understanding of the continent. As one of an increasing number of women polar scientists, it’s a privilege to hear from someone who has first-hand experience of seeing the effects of climate change.

This online event was organised in collaboration with the Institute of Physics.

Find out more about the IoP here:

professor helen fricker

Professor Helen Fricker

Helen Amanda Fricker, originally from Altrincham, has just returned to her home in San Diego from Antarctica where she saw how the ice sheets are changing in our coldest continent.

Normally, her research into the state of Antarctic ice takes place by satellite monitoring; by this means she studies the large-scale movement of Antarctic ice: the calving of icebergs, the rates of melting and freezing. Helen is widely recognised for her discovery of subglacial lakes and the way in which water moves between some of these. A feature in Antarctica is named after her – the Fricker Ice Piedmont.

After her A-levels at Altrincham Girls’ Grammar School, Helen studied Physics at UCL and followed this with a PhD in glaciology from the University of Tasmania. In 1999 she moved to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California, where she is now Professor of Geophysics, running the Scripps Polar Centre.

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