The lake under the ice in Antarctica

There may not be many wild places left on Earth, but Antarctica certainly is one. Winters are extremely hostile to life – certainly to human life – with extremely cold temperatures and months without sunlight. Even summers are cold, and the weather is dangerously moody. The sheer size of this ice-covered continent is breathtaking. It is much larger than Europe 14,200,000 km2) and essentially unpopulated except for a few researchers in a couple of stations and some tourists who reach the Antarctic peninsula on cruise ships during the few weeks this is possible to cross the treacherous Drake passage between Patagonia and Antarctica each summer.

Antarctica also represents an interesting political experiment: it doesn’t belong to anyone, but the many countries that are members of the Antarctic treaty– a set of agreed on rules and codes of conduct aimed at protecting the continent from new exploitation. But scientific research is both welcome and needed.  It may not be the easiest choice for a research area, but we know so little about Antarctica that scientists working there are incredibly important. Despite its remoteness Antarctica is influenced by human activities and has been identified as one of the key places for potential tipping points in climate change: if the Antarctic ice shield, which holds 70% of the world’s freshwater melted completely, sea levels would rise by about 60 meters.

This is the backdrop for an exciting project funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF). One of the big questions is: what is underneath the ice? The source of science fiction fantasies (such as Austral by Paul McAuley), this is actually a very relevant question and potentially provides us with a glimpse of the history of the Antarctic continent. In 2016, a team of scientists set out to explore just this. Following up on the discovery of a freshwater lake hidden under ice they proposed to drill a hole in the ice to get samples of the lake and its sediments. The team formed under the acronym SALSA (for Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access). Their project would have been daring almost anywhere, but pulling this off in Antarctica required years of meticulous planning and training. After all, Antarctica is difficult to get to, hard to work in, and if something happens to you, hard to get away from.

Kathy Kasic

And what would be more exciting than having a movie made about the drilling experiment in Antarctica? The perfect person for this was Kathy Kasic, a biologist turned filmmaker from California State University in Sacramento, with many years of experience in making nature documentaries with some of the top stars in the field. Her effort to document what happened during the campaign would immortalize the research project. She used a modified version of cinéma verité to document what went on in the camp and during the actual drilling. She was the fly on the wall, as everybody else worked on the drilling project. What she produced is a fascinating blend of art and science. Her feature length movie “The lake at the bottom of the world” (click for trailer; view on Amazon, Apple TV) not only tells the fascinating story of a unique expedition in sometimes very personal and emotional pictures, but also lets us see the stunning beauty of the icy continent.

Dennis Duling, lead ice driller

We also catch a few glimpses of the dangers that loom and had the potential to derail the research efforts at any time. Strong winds made the tents used as sleeping quarters for the team look particularly puny and inadequate. The movie, however, goes well beyond just documenting this one campaign. It shows science in the making, as teamwork that only works if everyone is willing to cooperate across disciplinary boundaries, and to pitch in for mutual success. It shows scientists as real people, with emotions and flaws, but also shows their unbridled happiness and excitement for the research they conduct together. And one realizes that the team includes many more people than the scientists: the many technicians without whom the scientists would be stranded, but who rarely have much visibility and often get little recognition. The secret stars of the movie are the ice drillers, lead by Dennis Duling,  who were among the very few people on the planet to make this project a success or even possible.

In that spirit of collaboration and transdisciplinary curiosity, Kasic’s visit to the University of Oklahoma in early March was sponsored by three different units: the Environmental Studies Program, the Department of Film and Media Studies, and the Department of Biology. Students and faculty of all three units had time and opportunity to interact with the filmmaker and ask her about her movie and the adventure of working in Antarctica.

If anything, the movie and the stories told in it, show how research can contribute to our understanding of science as process, maybe especially under rough circumstances, and how it is done by real humans.

Ingo Schlupp (ORCID: is a Professor of Biology at the University of Oklahoma.

The Critical Zone as Critical Infrastructure

Soil profile

Soil profile (northern France). Notice the distinct horizons— darkest at top, where it’s most organic rich and—below that— various shades of brown that reflect leaching and accumulation of minerals over the millennia of formation of this soil. All photos by author.

Infrastructure— “the set of fundamental facilities and systems that support the sustainable functionality of households and firms. Serving a country, city, or other area, including the services and facilities necessary for its economy to function.” [Wikipedia] Continue reading

Solve Climate By 2030

image for blog

In honor of Earth Day 2021, we are posting the video of a webinar Lynn Soreghan and I organized at OU two weeks ago as part of an international initiative led by Center for Environmental Policy at Bard College. At over 100 universities around the US and across the world local experts presented steps individuals can take to address the climate crisis.

Our own Oklahoma Climate Dialog was moderated by Lynn, and featured four speakers talking about what each of us can do to make a difference when it comes to climate.

  • Edith Wilson, a Tulsa-based consultant on renewable energy and climate mitigation, spoke about the energy transition generally, but then focused on the carbon implications of our dietary choices.
  • Dirk Spiers, owner of Spiers New Technology, a leader in recycling batteries for electric vehicles, spoke about the benefits of electric vehicles–for climate and other aspects of life.
  • Sharina Perry, founder of Utopia Plastix, and inventor of the plant-based plastic it manufactures and distributes, spoke about being an intentional consumer.
  • Lindsey Pever, an attorney specializing in renewable energy clients, spoke about how to be an effective participant in the political process.

(For more information about the speakers, see the event website. The webinar was sponsored by OU’s Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy, and the Environmental Studies Program in OU’s College of Arts and Sciences.)

An aspiration for the Solve Climate By 2030 project is that educators will devote class time to discussing climate change–under the rubric #MakeClimateAClass. To help with this effort the organizers at Bard have assembled a rich set of educational resources, including discussion templates for classes in a wide range of subjects. Other videos from this year’s series are being added to the Solve Climate By 2030 YouTube channel (you can also view videos from 2020’s dialogs). If you teach, our or another video might help get a discussion going in your class–and you might find one from your own state or country.

Our dialog did a great job of bringing into focus the question of how individual action bears on collective problems like climate change. Lynn and I will be back next week with some thoughts on that issue.

The End of Incrementalism

Step by Step Watercolor SketchVincent Desplanche, Sketches for a ‘Sentier Randocroquis’ at, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

[We welcome Robert Lifset to the blog, to comment on the talk by Dr. Joe Nation posted here last week. This post completes our series on Environmental Justice and Environmental Health.]

This is a tale of two bills. Continue reading

Climate Change, the Anthropocene, Health, and Disease

Empty classroom. Photo by Benson Kua (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Dream Course, Interrupted

With the end of the spring semester, the Climate Change in History Dream Course came to a close. The course was neatly broken in two by COVID-19, which was officially declared a pandemic in mid-March, just as Continue reading

Paul Edwards on Infrastructure, Time, and Risk in Climate Science and Politics

Our final guest lecture for Climate Change in History came from Paul Edwards of Stanford University, a leading expert in the history of climate science who has served on the IPCC. Edwards blends science and technology studies (“STS”) with Continue reading

Indigenizing Environmental Governance


Yvette Wiley

Yvette Wiley showing the author how she uses the Strahler Stream Order in her work as the Director of Environmental Services at Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma. Photo by Loren Waters.

In her April 2020 presentation, Tahltan scholar Dr. Candis Callison, takes a close look at how the Anthropocene – as articulated by scientific collectives such as the Anthropocene Working Group – signifies a logic of severed relations that pines for Continue reading

Candis Callison on the Crisis of Climate Change

Last week’s Dream Course talk came from Candis Callison of the University of British Columbia, an expert on Science and Technology Studies, Indigenous Studies, and journalism. She argued that Continue reading

“Socio-energy systems design: A policy framework for energy transitions”

[This is first in a set of posts coordinated with Dr. Clark Miller’s (virtual) visit to OU’s Climate Change in History Dream Course. The video of Dr. Miller’s talk will appear here Friday, followed next Wednesday by Dr. Grady’s response.]

Clark A. Miller, Jennifer Richter, & Jason O’Leary. 2015. Energy Research & Social Science, vol. 6, pp. 29-40.
In the context of large-scale energy transitions, current approaches to energy policy have become too narrowly constrained around problems of electrons, fuel, and carbon, the technologies that provide them, and the cost of those technologies. Energy systems are deeply enmeshed in broad patterns of social, economic, and political life and organization, and significant changes to energy systems increasingly are accompanied by Continue reading

“The Floral Archive”

Anton Kerner von Marilaun

Anton Kerner von Marilaun

CITATION: Chapter 10 of Coen, D. R. 2018. Climate in motion: science, empire, and the problem of scale. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 
ABSTRACT: Chapter 10 introduces the reader to Anton Kerner von Marilaun (1831-1898), who is known for documenting the flora of the Austro-Hungarian empire. In addition to compiling a list of the plant species that occurred within the empire’s sprawling borders, Kerner also Continue reading

Decentering the Little Ice Age

2000 Year Temperature Comparison.png
Last week, our first guest speaker for the Climate Change in History Dream Course was Dr. Gregory Cushman, associate professor of international environmental history at the University of Kansas. Cushman reported on Continue reading

Climate Change in History Dream Course

Winslow Homer Hurricane, Bahamas

detail of Winslow Homer, Hurricane, Bahamas (1898)

This week, Dr. Suzanne Moon and I begin team-teaching “Climate Change in History” (HSCI 3473: History of Ecology and Environmentalism) as a Presidential Dream Course, a program which allows University of Oklahoma faculty to upgrade an existing course into its dream version, with guest lectures Continue reading

Earth Plasticity and Plasticity of Perception

One of my earliest memories as a freshman at UCLA took place in the front row of a cavernous, wood-paneled lecture hall equipped with a black-topped resin demonstration table. The class was Introductory Geology, and the professor a bearded, pony-tailed free spirit giddy with the anticipation of Continue reading

Petro Pete, Plastic Mascot for Plausible Denial

Petro Pete's Big Bad Dream

In 2016, the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board (OERB) published the fourth volume of its “Petro Pete” series of illustrated children’s books. To promote Petro Pete’s Big Bad Dream, K-2 classes throughout the state were invited Continue reading