GA lecture: Bloomin’ algae and ice sheets

GA lecture: Bloomin’ algae and ice sheets: 7pm March 2nd, 2021

It was a pleasure to host Dr. Chris Williamson from the School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol at the first of two online lectures in 20-21; a talk on microbes, albedo and the surface of Greenland, covering a wide range of spatial scales.

All set up, waiting for registrants to arrive on the Bristol GA Zoom call.

From p5 of the Thursday, February 21 1924 edition of the Western Daily Press, Bristol.

We chose to deliver the material in live format, attempting to recreate the essence of the ‘in-person lecture’. Ahead of the lecture, we took the opportunity to reveal something of the long history of the Bristol Branch and asked the audience to consider how material would have been delivered in the 1924 series on “Monsoon Rainfall Phenomena as Illustrated By Ceylon” (see image from 1924 newspaper). Who know, perhaps a magic lantern was used to project material then.

Embracing new modes of delivery, Chris zoomed in (pun intended) on microbial life on the surface of the Greenland ice sheet to illustrate their impact on energy balance, sea level rise and more. He presented the cutting edge science, and also the logistical challenges associated with conducting such field science in extreme environments.

Dr. Chris Williamson introducing the Black and Bloom project that has revealed so much about the role of algae in the cryosphere (zones with frozen water and ground)

The science presented was part of the Black and Bloom project, which involved many scientists from Bristol and also researchers from Svalbard, Potsdam, Sheffield, Leeds and Aberystwyth. Whilst we cannot undertake fieldwork, or even travel, at the moment, it was great to get a feel for fieldwork in such a different landscape, where sampling snow, filtering water, and filling test tubes presents a challenge.

Science tent at Black and Bloom camp, Greenland

Science tent at Black and Bloom camp, Greenland


Chris covered the science of albedo, photosynthesis, pigmentation and photophysiology at a level that could be adsorbed (another pun) by all in the audience, which included students from Bradley Stoke, Clifton College, St. Mary Redcliffe, Redmaids High, King Edwards Bath, Badminton and North Bristol Post-16 Centre.

There were plenty of questions at the end via the chat function. It was pleasing to see such an engaged audience, which actually grew during the course of the event because of late arrivals and no departures before the end; A testament to the quality of the lecture.

For further information/links see Resources.

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