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Scientist chases waterfalls in depths of breathtaking glaciers

In our NewsHour Shares moment of the day, most scientists expect to travel to the ends of the Earth in the name of research, but few have ever set foot in the heart of a glacier. That’s exactly what Ph.D. student Kiya Riverman’s work entails. We spoke with Riverman by phone about her work exploring the depths of the ice caves and their subrosa waterfalls on the Icelandic islands of Svalbard -- and what she hopes to learn there.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And finally tonight, our “NewsHour” Shares: something that caught our eye that might be of interest to you, too.

    Scientists often travel to the ends of the Earth in the name of research, but Ph.D. student Kiya Riverman’s work requires her to climb directly into the heart of glaciers.

    We spoke with Riverman by phone recently about exploring caves of ice on Svalbard — that’s a set of islands north of Iceland — and asked what she hopes to discover.

  • KIYA RIVERMAN:

    My name is Kiya Riverman. And I am a graduate student at Penn State University, where I study glaciers and ice sheets and how they might contribute to sea level rise.

    In a warming world, there’s this potential for ice to flow out into the ocean and contribute to sea level rise. And so understanding what controls the way that ice flows and how that changes is really of importance.

    When I am out in the field, I am first and foremost interested in understanding, what is the geometry of this glacier, how thick is the ice, what’s underneath it, because, in order to understand how it might change in the future, I have to have a good sense of what it looks like right now.

    Inside the cave systems, the main thing that I’m interested in studying is where there are waterfalls. So, where water exists underneath ice, it can have a big impact on the way that ice moves. There haven’t really been good descriptions of why there are waterfalls inside of glaciers.

    And so I map where they are and how they change through time. And so I’m specifically answering these little questions about how water cuts through glaciers, in order to say something about how increased amounts of water in the future will speed them up or slow them down.

    Every time I go in the system, I’m learning something new about how water flows through glaciers. And it’s also just a fun physical test of what can I take and learning the limits of both the science, but the limits of my own body and my ability to be in this harsh place.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And a couple of news updates before we leave you tonight.

    There is word U.S. special operations troops have been stationed at outposts in Libya since late last year. According to The Washington Post, fewer than 25 troops are trying to enlist local support for a possible offensive against ISIS.

    And the U.S. Navy has fired the commander of 10 American sailors who were captured after warning into Arabs waters this past January. The Navy said in a statement it lost confidence in the commander’s ability.

    And that’s the “NewsHour” for tonight. I’m Hari Sreenivasan.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And I’m Judy Woodruff.

    Join us online and again right here tomorrow evening with Mark Shields and Michael Gerson.

    For all of us at the “PBS NewsHour,” thank you, and good night.

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