The Koerner Pillow Icecap

The Koerner Pillow Icecap

In January 2008, while scouting for possible landing sites for the Students on Ice Antarctic 2007 expedition, Geoff Green and Dr. Roy “Fritz” Koerner found themselves on an unnamed pillow icecap in Antarctica’s Wauwerman Islands.

Fritz thought the icecap was like a microcosm for the Antarctic ice sheet, and he felt collecting data from it could help us better understand the changes happening in Antarctica. The icecap was also easy and safe to access thanks to rocky outcroppings near the shoreline, and it was near other landing sites that SOI frequently visits. It was the perfect spot to undertake a study.

So a proposal was made during the International Polar Year (IPY) 2007 – 2008 for two young Inuit from the Canadian Arctic to join the following Students on Ice Antarctic expedition and begin monitoring and observing the icecap, which would continue each year, undertaken by students and overseen by climate scientists.

The international IPY Secretariat accepted the project, and although Fritz did learn of its acceptance, he never got to see the project come to fruition, as he passed away later in 2008.

Fritz left behind a rich legacy of extraordinary scientific contributions and exploration. He frequently studied a glacier near the northern Inuit community of Grise Fiord, and he became well known there for taking the time to engage with the community, informing members about his research, and even bringing people with him onto the nearby glacier to assist. This kind of community engagement was uncommon during this time, and the hamlet appreciated it so much they gave him an Inuit name, Immirqutaillaq, which means Arctic Tern, a bird that flies between the Arctic and Antarctic.

In February 2009, two high school students, Terry Noah and Jason Pijamini from Grise Fiord went from the extreme north to the extreme south. They joined the Students on Ice Antarctic University expedition, carrying on Fritz’s legacy and helping educators, Dr. David Burgess and Dr. Luke Copland, take samples and place the equipment that would begin monitoring the icecap, now informally named the Koerner Pillow Icecap.

One of Dr. Copland’s students who was onboard the expedition, Sierra Pope, described the experience:

“This commemoration was meaningful to me, because of Fritz’s contribution to the scientific world and the study of the polar regions. Personally, as a graduate of Luke Copland’s lab at the University of Ottawa, I had studied Fritz’s work – readings and data research – and have a sense of his impact on the international glaciology community. It was also significant because Fritz was involved in the last IPY in 1957 and here I am participating in IPY projects in 2009! I feel this is a great cyclical event, to hike up and conduct measurements on behalf of Fritz.”

Since that first mission to place equipment on the icecap in 2009, Students on Ice has returned whenever possible to retrieve the data collected, and replace the equipment. Expeditions made stops at the icecap in 2010, 2011, 2012, and the most recent expedition in 2015.

With members of the education team changing from expedition to expedition, the data collection method has evolved over the years. But usual readings taken include air temperature, which is recorded throughout the year by a datalogger on the apex of the icecap, and measurements are taken to discover the snow depth of the previous year.

Students on Ice hopes to continue to use the Koerner Pillow Icecap to provide hands on learning experiences to students for many years to come, and continue on Fritz Koerner’s legacy.

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This website was made possible by a generous contribution from the Leacross Foundation.