We recently sat down with Julienne Stroeve, Polar Researcher, as part of our Born Seekers campaign. Julienne, born to explore uncharted territory, studies Arctic Sea ice to understand why it’s changing and the implications for the entire planet.
Q: What made you fall in love with science? Was there something that sparked your initial interest?
I didn't start out wanting to be a polar researcher. I wanted to be an astronaut, so I started going to college to become an aerospace engineer. During my master's I realized I was never going to be an astronaut – I get terrible motion sickness. But I still wanted to do something adventurous. As I was wrapping up my master's I took a class from a professor who did a lot of field work in Greenland, and I decided, "I want to go there. That looks amazing."
Q: Tell us about what you’re working on now.
My current research mostly focuses on monitoring the changing Arctic sea ice, which has been shrinking dramatically over the last 40 years. I'm documenting how the ice is changing, but also trying to understand why this is important and why it matters for the rest of the planet. I think what's gratifying is that we have these long data records where we can better understand what’s driving the changes that we're seeing in the climate system. As we've gathered more data and more evidence, we can see the imprint of our human activities on the climate system. I'm trying to get that information across to the people that matter – to policy makers – trying to get them to make smart decisions that will help our climate system as we go into the future. What I'm hoping for is for people to know we have these profound changes that are happening right now, especially in the Arctic. These changes are dramatic, and they affect the people and species living in the Arctic. And those of us here at lower latitudes are very detached from these changes because we're not having the same kind of dramatic climate change yet in our backyards. I'm trying to connect the dots and trying to show people how everything is connected.
Q: Can you describe your experience as a woman in science? What is it like being a woman in your field?
I don't think it's that easy being a woman in science still. I think there's more women today than there used to be, but we're still mostly in a male-dominated field. I might be in a meeting with thirty people and be the only woman in that meeting. You still see that. I find that somewhat challenging at times. Hearing, or having our voices heard can also be difficult at times. I do feel that it's changing, but it's only changing because a new generation of scientists is being bred with men and women that understand that women can also be great scientists.
Q: What advice would you give the next generation of female scientists?
The advice I can give to young women who are coming into the science field is, you need to have a bit of tough skin.
Q: What do you think makes someone a Born Seeker? What qualities do you think are essential to becoming a Born Seeker?
If I were to think about the qualities of a Born Seeker, it would be somebody who is driven by knowledge or trying to understand something. For me, it's trying to understand the climate system and understand why what's happening right now is so important for everybody. Not just in the polar regions, but for the planet.