Dr. Matthew Sturm

Professor of Geophysics, University of Alaska-Fairbanks/Geophysical Institute

Dr. Sturm is responsible for conducting wide-ranging geophysical studies on snow in high latitudes. His work has taken him from the Antarctic to the Arctic, and he has been the leader of more than 35 expeditions in winter in pursuit of his science.  His work has focused on the role of snow cover on climate, with particular attention to snow ecology, and climate change resulting from snow-vegetation interactions. More recently he has been studying blowing and drifting snow, along with its impact on hydrology and ecology of the Arctic

University page: https://www.uaf.edu/experts/matthew-sturm.php

Matthew’s Profile: https://www.uaf.edu/nanooknation/sturm.php

Matthew Sturm: The Snow Man: https://asr.science.energy.gov/news/program-news/post/13183

Some Recent Books by Matthew Sturm:

Apun: The Arctic Snow

Finding the Arctic: History & Culture Along a 2,500-Mile Snowmobile Journey from Alaska to Hudson’s Bay

A Field Guide to Snow

Interviews

2009

Dr. Matthew Sturm, professor of geophysics at the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, has dedicated over four decades to studying the Arctic. With a primary focus on snow cover and the cryosphere, he investigates how the region responds to climate change. Dr. Sturm’s initial fascination with the Arctic was driven by a love for mountaineering and a desire to explore its romance. However, his scientific studies led him to the forefront of one of the world’s most pressing issues– climate change. He recognizes the Arctic as a critical location for understanding global change due to its sensitivity to environmental shifts. By conducting extensive research expeditions across the region, Dr. Sturm strives to collect comprehensive data sets that shed light on the changing Arctic landscape. Through his work, he hopes to unravel the mysteries of the Arctic’s snow cover and contribute valuable insights to the field of glaciology.

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Dr. Matthew Sturm, a passionate Arctic explorer, describes the unique allure of the region. He finds the beauty of the Arctic to be subtle and nuanced, unlike the more obvious grandeur of the Alps or other majestic mountains. Here the interplay of light, ice, and colors an exotic landscape captivates him. Dr. Sturm emphasizes the rich history embedded in the Arctic, from the first footsteps of indigenous peoples to the achievements of Western explorers and scientists. The vastness of the Arctic, with its expansive spaces and the solitude of being hundreds of miles from the next human, adds to its appeal. He highlights the strange and captivating lighting phenomena, such as diamond dust and halos, that add to the Arctic’s allure. In terms of comfort, Dr. Sturm notes that with proper gear and acclimatization, the discomforts are minimal, and the relaxed environment offers respite from the busy office life. He also acknowledges the timeless quality of the Arctic, where one can momentarily escape the hustle and bustle of daily routines and be immersed in the serenity and magic of the icy landscape.

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Dr. Matthew Sturm is an experienced explorer who has undertaken several snow machine traverses across long distances in the Arctic. These trips ranged from 200 to 3,000 miles, with the longest being a successful three thousand-mile journey from Fairbanks to Baker Lake, Nunavut. The expeditions require careful planning, taking into account factors such as weather conditions, snowmelt, and the availability of sunlight. Dr. Sturm emphasizes the importance of securing funding, selecting a logical route, and choosing reliable companions for challenging and often stressful conditions. The logistics of the trips involve determining the amount of fuel and food needed, arranging for scientific research along the way, and ensuring that equipment is in good working order. Despite occasional dramatic incidents such as encountering thin ice or equipment breakdowns, most of the stories from these expeditions revolve around camaraderie, breathtaking snow-covered landscapes, and the patience required to endure long stretches of challenging terrain. Dr. Sturm and his team document their experiences through notes, movies, and a book titled “Finding the Arctic,” which also explores historical aspects of the Arctic region.

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Dr. Matthew Sturm describes Barrow (now called Utqiaġvik), Alaska, as a place filled with contradictions. On the one hand, it is modern and well-connected to the rest of the nation, with easy accessibility and political sophistication. On the other hand, it holds onto core values related to whaling and a traditional way of life. The people of Barrow embody these contradictions, where whalers embrace tradition while using high-performance snow machines and modern technology like cell phones and radar pictures of ice. Dr. Sturm aims to capture this complex and nuanced Arctic reality in his writing, challenging the common stereotypes of the Arctic as either a noble savage or socially problematic place. He believes that the Arctic’s adaptations have a unique twist and offer a rich tapestry of modern and old intertwined. The real Arctic, according to Dr. Sturm, is confounding, messy, and continuously evolving, contrary to the notion of a frozen-in-time culture. Barrow (Utqiaġvik), with its diverse cultural influences from Polynesian, Filipino, Japanese, and black communities, exemplifies the fascinating and multifaceted nature of the Arctic.

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2022

Matthew Sturm’s lifelong fascination with snow continues, and he remains personally invested in understanding it. As a scientist, he has successfully shared the wonder of snow through books and museum exhibits, enhancing people’s appreciation for it. He acknowledges the complexity of water and the puzzle-solving aspect of snow research. Technological advancements have improved snow mapping capabilities, allowing for detailed measurements on large scales. Dr. Sturm’s contributions continue to advance our understanding of this vital element of nature.

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Matthew Sturm has had a lifelong fascination with snow, its beauty and complexity. Through exhibits and outreach, he promotes public appreciation for snow. While day-to-day changes in snow can be challenging to observe, his work provides valuable insights. Notable climate events, like once-in-a-century rain on snow, have impacts, but overall, snow’s deviations from the norm remain within expected bounds.

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Matthew Sturm reflects on the evolving dynamics of Arctic villages. Over the years, these communities have become more connected to the global economy and technology, yet still maintain their unique identity. With the advent of cell phones and improved communication, they are more wired-in than before. The traditional way of life intersects with modernity, creating a fascinating blend of cultures and influences. Despite these changes, the Arctic’s icy landscape remains a constant presence, a reminder of the region’s enduring essence.

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In a thought-provoking conversation, Matthew Sturm discusses the challenges and concerns surrounding the study of the cryosphere and the Arctic’s changing landscape. He acknowledges that the speed of change is outpacing our ability to understand it fully. While advancements in technology are promising, they might not be enough to keep up with the rapid changes happening in the Arctic. As an Arctic scientist, he recognizes the limitations of current tools and models in grasping the complexity of snow behavior across vast scales. Additionally, he reflects on the shifting perspective of people towards the Arctic, emphasizing the importance of historical context and understanding the region’s past to inform our present and future endeavors.

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Dr. Matthew Sturm discusses the noticeable pace of change in the Arctic landscape and the societal responses to it. He reflects on the deteriorating condition of infrastructures due to thermocarving and the struggle to keep pace with environmental challenges. Sturm emphasizes that these changes are not limited to the physical environment but also impact cultural aspects, like hunting and fishing traditions. Climate change is altering the Arctic’s weatherscape and transportation patterns, leaving people with a sense of loss and a profound awareness of the transformations around them. He points out that change is often met with resistance and apprehension, but recognizes that inconvenient truths tend to resurface, urging us to face the realities of climate change and prioritize actions to mitigate its impacts.

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Matthew Sturm expresses his personal interest in studying drifting snow and its significance in the context of climate change. He highlights how climate change discussions often focus on temperature and precipitation, but wind is a crucial factor that shapes the Arctic’s snow patterns. Despite its importance, little attention has been given to predicting future wind patterns in the Arctic. Drifts of snow are particularly significant in determining the region’s snow conditions, impacting both accumulation and loss of snow through sublimation. Sturm and his team have been studying snow drifts and their quantities, hoping to conduct a drift census to better understand the overall snow landscape.

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In this heartfelt conversation, Matthew Sturm and Paul Shepson share their profound passion for studying halogen chemistry and snow drifts. They consider their work in the Arctic a privilege and feel fortunate to explore the mysteries of the natural world. While they may not always see immediate practical applications, they believe in the intrinsic value of understanding the world and hope their curiosity inspires others.

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