An interview with Ulyana Horodyskyj

We’re excited to continue our series of posts from researchers who’ve posted projects on Petridish, highlighting their backgrounds, research interests and experience with the funding process.  Our next interview is with Ulyana Horodyskyj, a Ph.D. candidate at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado in Boulder.  View her project, “iSpy with my Camera Eye: Supraglacial Lake Changes.”

Q: Tell us a little bit about your research interests.

My research interets and projects have varied throughout my 26 years of life: from solar sails as an alternative to rocket propulsion, to early Earth continent formation, to weathering of rocks in Iceland as an analog to early conditions on Mars, to glaciology in the Himalaya.  Climate change and melting glaciers are two very important topics to address right now, as lives will continue to be adversely affected either directly or indirectly should we fail to act.  I, personally, cannot stand by and watch when I know better through my scientific training.  Though the terrain can be harsh and unforgiving, I believe we need more “boots of the ground” approaches to understand and quantify what is happening in the Himalaya and how that is currently affecting the local populations.

Q: What inspired you to become a scientist?  What got you interested in this particular project?

My interests in science and the outdoors started at a very young age.  When I was 6 years old, my parents had saved up enough money for our family to travel throughout Europe.  That is when I was first exposed to the mountains – the Swiss Alps.  Every summer as a child I was involved in some kind of science or sports camp, feeding my curiosity and leading me to where I am today.  I owe my parents a huge thank you for believing in and encouraging me.

From ages 13-17, the late physicist, Dr. Robert L. Forward, mentored me on solar sailing, a method of space transportation that simply uses the pressure of sunlight.  He gave up his spot for me at the annual NASA/JPL Advanced Space Propulsion workshop, so that I could present by research on solar sails to a roomful of rocket scientists at the ripe age of 14.  During my undergraduate years, Dr. Cin-Ty Lee from Rice University inspired me in the field of geology, giving me opportunities to travel, present and publish my work as a young scientist.  Finally, Mr. David Breashears of GlacierWorks (who directed the 1996 Everest IMAX film, which I saw when I was 12), inspired me to use my talents to start research in the Himalaya.

Q: What has been the most exciting thing you’ve found in your research so far?

Last summer, my field assistant, Ang Phula Sherpa, and I installed three time-lapse cameras on the Ngozumpa glacier in Nepal, to capture the dominant processes occurring in three different lakes: monsoon rainfall inputs in one; ice calving (collapse) in another; and draining/filling in the last.  For me, the exciting thing was being the first to “witness” these events, through time-lapse imagery.  Not only did we capture one of the lakes draining and then refilling (the first time this has been seen in real-time on a Himalayan glacier), we also gained some insight into that process: How long did it take to drain?  How much water drained?  How long did the refill take?  This continuous oblique-view imagery reveals far more information into glacier lake processes than occasional snapshots collected via remote satellite imagery.

Q: Why did you decide to post your project on Petridish?  

Times are hard – for everyone, not just for the scientists trying to secure funding.  So, first off, I would like to say a sincere thank you to all my donors and supporters.  It is important for me to “pay it forward”, in the spirit of my first mentor, Dr. Forward.  Thus, I believe it is crucial to keep the public informed on scientific topics of interest and to do so in a clear and effective manner.  Posting on PetriDish leads to project accountability and transparency, important in any research that is done.

Q: What is your favorite part of the work that you do?

I love to be outside, working in the field with my “boots on the ground.”  I thrive on outside-the-box thinking and nowhere is that tested more than when working in the field.  The challenges range from dealing with unexpected results that arise, leading to even more challenging questions.  I also enjoy training and working with local residents, informing them of what is happening in their backyards and giving them some sense of project ownership, too.  I hope to launch the Sherpa-Scientist Initiative this field season, which will involve more training of Sherpa on camera and instrument maintenance and data collection from their glaciers.

To read more about Ulyana’s research, ask questions or back her work, view the project page:

iSpy with my Camera Eye: Supraglacial Lake Changes

Time-lapse cameras along the Ngozumpa, one of the largest Himalayan glaciers, are helping scientists figure out how high mountain glaciers change on a day-to-day basis during the melt season.

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