'It has been a privilege to work in such a beautiful and unique environment with some of the leading experts in my study area...'
PhD in Antarctic Studies
Contributing to our knowledge of one of the least understood regions of the planet, and one which is key to the Earth's future, is Dan's ultimate goal and the reason for undertaking his PhD in Antarctic Studies.
'My personal motivation comes from a passion for the natural world and a realisation of our need to understand it,' he says. 'Making a contribution to the scientific study of our environment, especially with regards to human-induced climate change, is highly rewarding… and will permit better decision making in the management and safeguarding of our planet.'
Dan's research involved the analysis of NASA and European Space Agency satellite data on the thickness of the sea ice in Antarctica.
'Sea ice plays a vital role in the global climate system. Information on sea ice thickness in the Southern Ocean is very limited but it is desirable for the assessment of change to the sea ice cover and whether it is thinning because of climatic changes, for instance.'
Dan used his own fieldwork to validate the satellite data and to produce a three-dimensional study of a previously un-mapped area of the western Ross Sea.
'I spent three weeks on the ice one summer, carrying out ground validation for the European Space Agency's CryoSat-2,' he says. 'It was a privilege to work in such a beautiful and unique environment with some of the leading experts in my study area.'
Because the timing of his measurements was critical, Dan was often working 18 hours a day in challenging conditions.
'The weather changes so quickly. One minute you will be getting hot working away and then it's minus forty wind chill and white-out conditions, so there are always difficulties to deal with,' he says. 'It was amazing, a privilege to be there. One of the highlights was seeing wildlife like Emperor Penguins. We also went to one of Scott's huts which was incredible. To imagine what it must have been like for those explorers all those years ago was quite something.'
Having graduated with a BSc in Marine Geography from Cardiff University, Wales, Dan chose to focus on Antarctic Studies for his PhD because 'I enjoy working in extreme environments, and Antarctica ticks that box!'
UC was therefore an obvious choice for him. 'Canterbury offers a world-class research centre and great academic support. The staff at Gateway Antarctica offer a diverse range of Antarctic experience which became very useful on undertaking fieldwork. Christchurch is also the logistics hub for the New Zealand and United States Antarctic programmes, and access was important in my decision to study here.'
It is not just Christchurch's access to Antarctica that appeals to Dan.
'Christchurch is also ideally located if you love the outdoors. It's a two hour drive to the mountains and gives great access to all the South Island has to offer.'