LAAS student Julia Andreasen named NASA Future Investigator

June 04, 2021

The coast of West Antarctica seen from an Operation IceBridge flight, taken by Peter Neff.


A photo of Julia Andreasen holding a large map of Antarctica
Graduate student Julia Andreasen with a map of Antarctica

Land and Atmospheric Science graduate student Julia Andreasen was selected by NASA to receive a Future Investigator in Earth and Space Science and Technology (FINESST) award. The program provides funding for researchers who propose creative ways to use data from NASA missions. 

Julia will analyze data collected by Operation IceBridge, a decade-long NASA mission in which planes flew above the Arctic, Antarctic and Alaska, remotely measuring the thickness, flow and change of sea ice, glaciers and ice sheets. Her advisor Dr. Peter Neff, Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, participated as a guest scientist in two IceBridge flights over Antarctica in 2016.

Weather in West Antarctica

A grayscale figure of a hill composed of several thin layers; the layers are annual snowfall
An example of a radargram showing annual snowfall layers 

As a NASA Future Investigator, Julia will focus on the recent climate of West Antarctica as preserved in the ice sheet. “West Antarctica is a dynamic and critical region in Antarctica, where ice, ocean, and atmosphere converge to drive change.” By using radar data collected by Operation IceBridge, Julia can examine radargrams, images of what’s below the surface of the ice sheet. Layers seen in the radargrams are annual snowfall layers, like the growth rings of a tree. Julia is able to construct a virtual ice core and measure how the rate of snowfall has changed over recent decades, which can hint at how the climate has varied over that time period. Climate variability and trends have implications for how the ice sheet is changing, including contributing to sea level rise. 

Future Explorations

The beauty of ice and a sense of adventure is what inspires Julia to study glaciology, alongside her interest in the environment. “Not only is it rewarding because you get to look and think about a vast and beautiful and interesting place; it means something in a greater context.” 

Julia says that a future research goal is to travel to Antarctica and collect samples herself: “A big goal of mine is to get down there at some point.” She would like to collect ice core samples from the coast of Western Antarctica and compare what she sees in the remote sensing data and the images she creates on her laptop to the actual ice.