A career in Earth Science that went from Swaledale to Antarctica
More than 350 Geography and Biology students at Richmond School and Sixth Form College were fascinated to learn about the pressing global problems created by climate change, from a leading expert in the field of Earth Science. Dr Thomas Barningham, alumnus, is a project manager for the British Antarctic Survey and leads the Halley Automation Project which enables continuous monitoring of the ozone hole over Antarctica.
Thomas spoke extensively about the Halley Research Station, where he is due to return for four months in November. The Station is an internationally important platform for global earth, atmospheric and space weather observation in a climate-sensitive zone. Built on a floating ice shelf in the Weddell Sea, Halley VI is the world’s first re-locatable research facility, that provides scientists with state-of-the-art laboratories and living accommodation, enabling them to study major international risks from climate change and sea-level rise to space weather and the ozone hole – first discovered at Halley in 1985.
Thomas said: “It’s an honour to come back to the school I grew up in as key-note speaker. I remember sitting where the current students are now and being challenged and inspired by what the staff were teaching. I hope I can now pay the school back and do the same for the current cohort of students. Having an understanding of Environmental and Earth Sciences is critical for addressing the major challenges that we as a society face today. Not only are these students the ones that will have to face these challenges head on in their lifetime, but they’re also the ones that will solve and address them.”
Thomas explained how the Station has been developed using ground-breaking technology so that measurements and data can be collected to continuously monitor the ozone hole remotely throughout the Antarctic winter when the station may be unoccupied. The students were captivated by his address which took Thomas back to his time at Richmond School where his initial thoughts on career progression and interests within the Earth Sciences began. He highlighted the topics that captured his imagination and the reasoning behind his subject choices, both at school and onwards at University. He also spoke about the ice ages, volcanology and contemporary climate change, before concluding with a broad discussion on his current role for the British Antarctic Survey and the work the organisation do in understanding our polar regions. He explained about the diversity of people, backgrounds and jobs in Antarctica and discussed the different educational and career routes students could consider to get there.
Will Mawer, a Year 12 student, said: “The talk about the British Antarctic Survey was fascinating, demonstrating the wide variety of interesting career paths that can be taken with further education in Geography and Science. It really inspired me to take my knowledge to a further level, and I may someday go to Antarctica myself, if I get the chance!.” Taryn Hodgson, a Year 13 student, added: “I found the research by the British Antarctic Survey fascinating, especially with its links to my studies in Geography and Biology, and also its importance of keeping track of climate change. The development of the Halley Research Base over time was really interesting to see, I was amazed at the wide variety of professions needed for operations such as moving the whole base over a large distances to avoid dangerous cracks in the ice shelf.”
Pete Hedley, Geography Teacher, concluded: “The students and staff were privileged to listen to Thomas who spoke so passionately about his studies, career and his most-recent work in Antarctica and the very real and serious risks that climate change poses to the world. His talk was thought-provoking and engaging and left our students in no doubt about how fragile the environment has become and that it is everyone’s responsibility to do whatever they can to help to halt the devastating impact of climate change that is a global issue that affects us all.”
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