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The big picture

In addition to securing microscopic evidence from the world’s chilliest climes, Brad Markle uses his artistic eye to capture photographs of vast landscapes.

Dare to do

Standing outside of his temporary classroom and laboratory overlooking Greenland’s Disko Bay, Brad Markle breathes in the big picture. The big picture is something that’s always on his mind, which is reflected in both his art and science. As a photographer, he captures sweeping scenes, from giant, rippling cloud masses and never-ending skies, to massive, bobbing icebergs in a vast ocean. As a scientist who studies paleoclimatology, he asks questions on a sweeping scale to untangle the complexities of the Earth’s climate history over millennia.

Brad Markle

Brad Markle

Brad Markle, Ph.D. candidate

Department of Earth & Space Sciences

Area of research: Glaciology

Most recently: Markle contributed to a multi-institutional study that demonstrates the link between sudden warming events in Greenland’s past and corresponding periods of cooling in Antarctica. Crucial to making this connection, which spans thousands of miles and tens of thousands of years, were precise analyses of oxygen molecules from miles beneath the surface of Antarctic ice.

Markle, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in the College of the Environment’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences, studies the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide, a U.S.-led deep ice-coring project funded by the National Science Foundation. He sifts through 70,000 years of climate data locked within ice core samples to unearth signals and indicators related to a changing climate over time. In doing so, he can decipher likely scenarios of change that predate any potential human-made impacts and inform our understanding of future climate trends and events.

But this isn’t a project that any one scientist can tackle alone. Researchers across the globe are working in tandem to analyze and interpret various data from the WAIS Divide. Markle, a native Oregonian, is one of those scientists. He chose to pursue his Ph.D. at the College of the Environment in part because it houses two world-class departments, Earth and Space Sciences and Atmospheric Sciences. The departments sit next to each other physically, and researchers are encouraged to extend the scope of their knowledge into other disciplines. For Markle and his faculty advisor, Professor Eric Steig, thinking outside of their disciplinary silos is hugely beneficial for furthering their work and expanding their network of scientists beyond any one program at the UW.

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Photo gallery

Over the past several years, Brad Markle’s research has taken him to some of the world’s coldest places — and most beautiful, provided they’re not covered in clouds.

Juneau Gilkey Glacier

Streams on ice? Yep. For one study, Markle measured changes in water flow on top of the Gilkey Glacier on the Juneau Icefield. He studied here one summer as an undergraduate and returns to teach regularly.

Students measure scallops in the ice under the Llewellyn Glacier on the Juneau Icefield. Markle, there as a guide and teacher, also served as an impromptu photographer. There is a very active river network under — and inside — many glaciers, and the cave completely flooded a day later.

Students measure scallops in the ice under the Llewellyn Glacier on the Juneau Icefield. Markle, there as a guide and teacher, also served as an impromptu photographer. There is a very active river network under — and inside — many glaciers, and the cave completely flooded a day later.

Juneau Icefield

While spending several weeks on the Juneau Icefield, traversing from camp to camp, Markle and his students had seen nothing but snow, rocks, blue sky and clouds. Near the end of the summer, they crossed a divide and passed through a patch of wildflowers. “It was a pretty wild moment for the senses,” says Markle.

Icecore drilling

Markle recently worked with a team of researchers from the UW — and across the country — on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide ice core project, in which the UW played a major role.

WAIS divide

Markle and his fellow researchers called this camp on the WAIS Divide home. What is it like to live on a remote ice sheet for two months? “It’s essentially flat whiteness forever, white to the horizon in all directions,” says Markle. “There’s 24 hours of daylight in the summer. It’s otherworldly.”

Windstorm

Markle has seen his share of nasty storms, especially in Antarctica, where enduring savage winds is often just a part of life.

Greenland Jacobvshavn

Last summer, Markle traveled to Greenland as a student in an Advanced Climate Dynamics Course (ACDC) — organized by the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research at the University of Bergen along with the UW and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Here, while on a hike to look at the ice fjord of Jacobshavn Glacier, students are joined by local sled dogs.

Greenland Lights

ACDC students watch the northern lights at the Arctic Research Station in Disko Bay, Greenland.

On his way back from Greenland, Markle stopped over in Iceland for a weeklong backpacking trip and snapped this shot of Álftavatn Lake.

On his way back from Greenland, Markle stopped over in Iceland for a weeklong backpacking trip and snapped this shot of Álftavatn Lake.


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