Meet our scientists: Jenny Turton

Today we are speaking to Dr Jenny Turton, who is currently the senior science advisor for a non-profit organisation called Arctic Frontiers in Tromsø, Norway. Prior to her role there, Jenny was a researcher in the GROCE project in subproject 8, and in this blog, she will talk about her career path and opportunities for science work outside of the traditional academic path.  

When and how did you first get interested in science?

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a meteorologist. Well… to start off with I wanted to be a weather presenter on TV. I decided to study a little broader at university and did Earth Science with Geography at Bachelors, followed by a Masters degree in environmental science from Lancaster University in the UK. The masters was a 'masters by research', so I spent a year researching for my thesis, and that is when I decided that a PhD was the route for me.  

Have you always been interested in the Arctic region?

Initially my interest was in all things extreme – with extreme precipitation being the focus of my master thesis. But I have always loved snow and when I saw the advertisement for the PhD topic I worked on, I was instantly sold! My PhD was based at the British Antarctic Survey and University of Leeds, and focused on the impacts of foehn winds (warm, dry, downslope winds) on the Larsen C Ice Shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula. It was only when I joined the GROCE project in September 2017 that my focus moved to the Arctic. 

How did you become involved with researching Greenland?

The subproject of GROCE that I worked on was quite similar to my PhD – atmospheric modelling using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model to investigate the impacts of synoptic weather conditions on the glaciers. Just a different pole to what I had worked on previously. However, I am very glad that I started work on Greenland and the Arctic, as it is a fascinating part of the world which I now call home (Norwegian Arctic – not Greenland). 

What has been your contribution to GROCE and what was, in your view, your most exciting result?

Publications are always listed as being an important contribution, and I had a few of those through GROCE, but I think my biggest contributions have been in areas such as science communication and building a network. Through the GROCE project, I was able to work with many international scientists and produce new knowledge on the interaction between the atmosphere and surface ice in Greenland and other mountainous parts of the world. Additionally, I was involved with podcasts, radio shows, written news articles and outreach events which introduced the GROCE project and northeast Greenland to new audiences. 

One of the most interesting results was investigating the changes in supraglacial lake area, location and characteristics over the northeast Greenland ice stream, and tracking their changes over a number of years. We used a combination of observations, remote sensing products and modelling to look at the year-to-year changes due to the meteorological conditions. We also found that melt lakes are occurring at high elevations than previously – a worrying yet not surprising response to the climate warming in this region. 

How important do you think science communication is?

Immensely important. I have been involved in science communication for close to a decade and through a number of different mediums. I think we have a responsibility as scientists to accurately and appropriately communicate our science and results. There are also many ways to do this – through schools and universities, to teachers and educators, to policy makers, to businesses and to your family and friends. I am also glad to see a number of universities now teaching science communication courses and that it is becoming a requirement of many research proposals. I think it can also be a great career option – journalists, communication advisors, outreach providers and writers can all focus on science. 

Where did you learn about Arctic Frontiers and what do you do in your current job?

Speaking of science communication… through twitter. I followed a scientist on twitter who had the job before I did. Arctic Frontiers is a non-profit organisation who bring together scientists, policy makers, businesses and local communities in the Arctic for discussions regarding all aspects of the Arctic – from climate change, to energy transition, to demography. I am responsible for developing the scientific content of our discussions and events and I am still involved in a number of research projects. I also get to communicate science on a daily basis, which I love! 

How does your past experience in research help you now in your work with Arctic Frontiers?

I understand the pressures, time constraints and timelines of the scientific and research world, which allows me to know when best to approach scientists and how to involve them in our work. Additionally, I know quite a few (mostly physical) scientists who work in the Arctic or have a lot of experience, so I reach out to my network regularly. Although my area of science was fairly specific to atmospheric science and surface glaciology, I have interacted with oceanographers, glaciologists, geologists, climatologists, ecologists and many other disciplines during my research years. I am also involved with the European Geosciences Union (EGU) which allows me to get a broad overview of other geoscience disciplines and policy makers. Finally, I've attended many conferences, workshops and science events, so I can provide some input on the structure and organisation of such events. 

Have you learnt something in your current job that you think could have helped your research to have a greater impact on society?

Yes! I wish I had attended more broad, interdisciplinary conferences and events to present my research. It can be highly beneficial to present your recent work at very specific conferences and get excellent feedback, but to also involve policy makers, local communities and scientists from different fields, interdisciplinary conferences are very important. I am still keeping a foot in the research world and will have a new publication out soon, so I will probably take my own advice and present my results to a wide audience!