The Big Thaw: a warming, changing Arctic
  • Plymouth Lecture Theatre, Portland Square Building, Plymouth University

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Professor Mary Edwards from the University of Southampton will be giving the Mark Blacksell Lecture entitled 'The Big Thaw: a warming, changing Arctic'. 

The Mark Blacksell Lecture is a public lecture that is aimed at a wide audience. Members of the public, academics and anyone with an interest in Arctic regions and landscapes will find it stimulating and informative.

Professor Edwards will consider the fragility of Arctic systems, drawing upon examples from Alaska, where she lived for several years, and Siberia, the largest northern land area affected by Arctic warming.

Lecture synopsis

We are rapidly becoming more aware of the fragility of the polar regions in the face of climate warming. While global average temperatures have increased by half a degree or so over recent decades, the change in the Arctic has been much greater. Much of the far north is affected by permafrost - permanently frozen ground - and landscapes and vegetation respond to changes in the condition of the ice that underlies the surface. Warming-induced loss of ice from both land and sea has a range of consequences that not only affect the Arctic region but can be worldwide in their impact: the lifeways of indigenous people are being changed, there are new technological challenges, and the cycling of carbon between arctic lands and the atmosphere is being altered. 

Drawing upon examples from Alaska and Siberia, Professor Edwards discusses Arctic warming in these regions. The retreat of sea ice from the coast of Alaska has brought water for longer seasons to the frozen coast of the Arctic Ocean, greatly enhancing shoreline erosion rates and causing settlements to be relocated. Surface thawing brings various disruptions to infrastructure and transportation. In parts of Alaska and Siberia, massive ice underlies the ground surface, occurring as wedges that are many metres deep. In these areas, the processes of thermokarst, or thermal erosion of the ground, can dramatically transform permafrost landscapes and release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, which then further contribute to atmospheric warming. When these changes are placed in a long-term perspective, however, we see that there have been previous periods of strong warming in northern regions. Thus, the current changes are not new for the Arctic, but they are taking place extremely fast, and whether Arctic nations can adapt to them effectively is a critical question for the coming decades.

About the speaker

Mary Edwards is Professor in Physical Geography at the University of Southampton. Her interests are centred on global environmental change: understanding climate-driven changes in landscape, vegetation, and ecosystem processes over a range of timescales through palaeoenvironmental records and data-model comparisons. Her main geographic area of interest is the boreal-arctic region, and recent work relates to boreal forest dynamics, including fire disturbance and hydrological regimes, and thermokarst dynamics in relation to biogeochemical processes. Recent collaborative work involves the estimation of past and present plant diversity using novel molecular techniques.

The event is free to attend but booking is essential. Please book via the above link. 

Doors will open at 6pm and the lecture will start promptly at 6.15pm. 

The audience is also warmly invited to the drinks reception following the talk in the atrium area outside the lecture theatre.

Please contact Nicola Whitehouse ( for any queries about this event.

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The Mark Blacksell Public Lecture Series

The purpose of this lecture series is to bring scholars working at the forefront of geography to Plymouth University to present their research to a public audience. The lecture series is named after Professor Mark Blacksell, a human geographer with unusually widespread interests and expertise. He was appointed Professor of Geography at Plymouth University in 1994, and served as both Head of the Geography Department and Dean of the Faculty of Science before he retired in 2003.

Visit the above link for more information and video links to other lectures in the series.

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