Blog by Heidi Sevestre on Glaciology

Timelapse and Glaciology: 8 Questions to Dr. Heidi Sevestre

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4 minutes


Meet Dr. Heidi Sevestre

Born in 1988 in Gruffy, Haute-Savoie, Heidi Sevestre spent her early years surrounded by the serene beauty of her hometown. She went on to study in Lyon, acquiring a BSc in Physical Geography in 2009. Driven by a keen interest in glaciology, she further specialized in this area, obtaining a PhD from the University of Svalbard in Norway.

Specializing in Glaciology


Dr. Sevestre's work largely involves field experiments aimed at exploring glacier dynamics and their movements. She lived in the Arctic until completing her dissertation in 2015, which provided a closer look at these phenomena. Her research also includes studying the vast expanses of ice shelves that stretch out over the Antarctic seas.

1. Can you say a few words about your job?

Glaciers are remarkable indicators of climate; they quickly reflect climatic shifts. Our role as glaciologists is to comprehend how glaciers adjust to climate changes and to estimate their contribution to the increase in sea levels. This is a complex challenge, which, among other aspects, requires an understanding of glacier kinetics, movement patterns, and speeds to predict their future mass balance.


2. How would you define timelapse?

Time-lapse photography is a technique that captures a series of images of the landscape at consistent intervals at a particular moment. When compiled into a video, these images give a sped-up view of the landscape's transformation.


3. How do you use time-lapse in your job?

Time-lapse photography is transforming the field of glaciology. By deploying simple, self-sufficient systems like Tikee, we can visualize changes in glaciers that are otherwise imperceptible to the naked eye, over diverse temporal scales ranging from seconds to hours.


4. What phenomena can you observe with time-lapse?

My focus is particularly on glacial surging, a phenomenal yet relatively unknown occurrence within glaciology. Certain glaciers undergo periods of acceleration lasting several years, reaching extraordinary speeds from 1 to 50 meters a day, known as a surge. Post-surge, these glaciers enter a dormant phase which can last decades before they start overflowing once again. Water plays a crucial role in this phenomenon, especially when it accumulates beneath the glacier, facilitating rapid movement. For us, time-lapse is an invaluable tool for studying these surges, capturing everything from their inception to glacier acceleration and deceleration. Through this method, we can easily measure glacier velocities and discern water flow patterns, gaining insight into why and how glaciers surge.


5. Can time-lapse raise public awareness about climate change?

The scientific community is pivotal in demystifying the underlying causes and consequences of climate change, a complex phenomenon that is challenging to convey. Pairing time-lapse footage of retreating glaciers with our scientific narrative effectively showcases the urgency of our warming planet. Witnessing the rapid retreat of a glacier, regardless of whether you're a glaciologist, is evocative and startling.


6. What are your upcoming time-lapse projects?

In the next year, I aim to document the vanishing of tropical glaciers and highlight the impact of climate change on mountainous tropical regions where communities directly depend on glaciers. The endeavor, titled "The Last Tropical Glaciers," will involve setting up time-lapse cameras near the glaciers and producing documentaries that tell the stories of these communities facing imminent loss of their ice masses.


7. What is a typical day for a glaciologist?

A glaciologist's day-to-day varies greatly based on location. When in the office, my focus is on data analysis, publishing findings in academic journals, and securing funding for upcoming projects. However, the fieldwork is my favorite aspect of the job, where routine is absent and daily tasks adapt to the changing weather. Regardless of the season, we usually reside in tent camps, beginning our day with a hearty breakfast, commonly porridge, which provides lasting energy (and sticks to our teeth), and we prepare hot water bottles to keep warm. We then approach the glacier by sea (using zodiacs, kayaks, or boats), by land (on foot or snowmobile), or by air (helicopter). Considering the potential hazards of working near highly active and crevassed glaciers, caution is key. When it comes to time-lapse equipment, we position it on the sturdiest surrounding mountains. This is particularly challenging in Svalbard, where permafrost melting causes constant ground movement leading to unstable mountain terrain.


8. Any interesting anecdotes about the correlation between time-lapse and bears?

Indeed! A significant portion of our 'Glaciers On The Move' project unfolds in Svalbard, home to an abundance of polar bears—outnumbering human residents. With their exceptional sense of smell and innate curiosity, these bears often inspect our cameras, to our delight or dismay. In August 2018, after installing new equipment around the Tunabreen glacier, we learned that a family of polar bears we had earlier spotted decided to completely demolish our most critical device for the project. They were probably let down by the lack of food inside. Bears also become our unintended 'Easter eggs' in the time-lapse footage. The first thing I do upon retrieving a camera's memory card is to search for bear sightings, once I've completed the initial evaluations. Thank you very much, Heidi!

To learn more about Dr. Heidi Sevestqualified, go here.

And to follow the 'Glaciers On The Move' project, go there.

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