Rotten Ice Team: Bonnie Light


Bonnie snow machining with her Arctic “Dishgloves”



PhD UW Atmospheric Sciences, 2000

Current Position

Principal Physicist, Polar Science Center

Website Link

Interview with Bonnie


Tell us a bit about your research interests.

I’m interested in how sunlight is reflected, absorbed, and transmitted by sea ice. This is important for understanding the heat balance of the Arctic, the thermodynamic properties of sea ice—it’s winter growth and summer melt and it’s also important for primary productivity within the ice and in the water column below.

What previous experience have you had doing Arctic research?

This project is my 6th trip to the ice. I was incredibly fortunate to be introduced to Arctic field work during the SHEBA project. I was a graduate student at the time and spent 4 months continuous on that ice station—it was an amazing experience.

About the Rotten Ice Project

How did you come to be part of the Rotten Ice project? How does this relate to your general research interests?

Rotten ice was something I started thinking about many years ago when I saw late-summer ice at SHEBA actually. It looked like it was just barely hanging on and I wondered what was the difference between ice that held on and became 2nd year ice, in comparison to ice that melted completely, leaving the ocean ice free

What do you hope to achieve with this project?

I hope this project is a springboard for further interesting topics, but I also hope it grows into a story about an ice type that we know little about and which we think may become more prevalent in the future.

What do you see as your role in the project?

To make optical measurements, which is something I’ve done a lot of, but still keep on learning from, but also to push some new boundaries—help define some new types of physical properties in the ice

What does “rotten ice” mean to you?

Ice that is very porous that sea water moves freely within it—if that seawater is warmed by the sun then that ice probably won’t survive much longer

How does this project compare to previous ones you’ve participated in?

This project is very different. Most projects I’ve participated in have a much narrower scope and plug into a larger effort or a ship-based cruise. This one has a very wide scope and it, in some ways, stands alone.What has been a highlight during the project so far? What has not worked out as you expected? –it has been a highlight to watch this team come together—this really is an interdisciplinary project and we each bring expertise—it’s been challenging at times to work across these boundaries, but when we do, that’s very satisfying

About Fieldwork

What is the most challenging part of fieldwork in this project?

The shear volume (well, mass) of the equipment that we had to organize and ship up to our field site was daunting

What do you find to be the most unique thing about Barrow?

I love working in Barrow! I know of only few other places on the planet where you can take a commercial airliner to a great logistical base and literally walk off the beach onto sea ice (Resolute Bay, Canada and Longyearben, Svalbard are two of them).

What is your mosquito-avoidance strategy for July?

Hope the wind never dies!

What is the most interesting field location you’ve ever been to? Most unforgettable field moment? 

They are all interesting. Most unforgettable was when I learned how to run along a rapidly spreading crack in the ice to find a jag to hop over : – O

Do you prefer cruises or land-based work?

They both have their merits, but for where I am at right now, land-based work is really, really nice!

How do you deal with being away from friends and family while in the field? Or do you like the break?

It’s a full-family effort to get me out the door on departure day. I miss everyone at home sorely when I’m away, but modern communication tools really help. When I was on the ice station for 4 months in 1998 we had 2x a day email. No skype. No internet. It’s a lot easier now. Not having to grocery shop and cook is a total luxury for me. When the kids were really little I also found it pretty nice that my field roommates generally slept through the night, never woke up crying, and never threw up on me : )

About Teamwork

What do you think is the most important personality trait that you bring to the table?

Well, I am learning (!) that the best work gets done when I plan ahead, stay organized, and plan ahead. Did I mention planning ahead?? I like to stay easy-going and level headed in the field.

Describe the other members of the team in one word.


On Women in Science

What do you think about working as part as an all-woman team? Is it different than other teams you’ve worked on? How?

Yes, I do think it is different. The humor we share is contagious and that makes work fun. That being said, I am really fortunate to have had many awesome field colleagues over the years, both men and women, and I love working with all of them.

Tell me about any formative moments or people that influenced your career trajectory.

I have had some outstanding mentors over the years. The one that first comes to mind asked me once, when I expressed grave concern about launching a career in this field, “Are you afraid to fail? If you are, you shouldn’t be.” That conversation really changed how I thought about my role in research.

What should aspiring young arctic scientists know about life as an arctic scientist? Any advice?

Don’t be afraid to fail!

Fun Stuff

What is your favorite Iḷisaġvik College cafeteria item?

Mixing cranberry juice and orange juice

What is your favorite measurement/analysis/sample in this project, and why?

I am endlessly fascinated with underice light measurements. They never disappoint!

If you had an unlimited budget, what one instrument or measurement would you add to this project and why?

A spectroradiometer that works—one that is fast, temperature stable, reliable dark-level correction, records two radiometers simultaneously

What is your favorite thing that lives in sea ice?

Arctic cod

The Diatomacous Divas need a group thing, what should it be? T-shirts? Hats? Glittery sunglasses? Sashes?

I’m ready for a new t-shirt!

Essential survival item for doing polar fieldwork?

Chocolate and insulated dish gloves


Meet more members of the team and read about our adventures on our blog at the Rotten Ice Page!