Texas Exes Shanghai Chapter Looks at China and UT’s Icy Explorations

James Bond hopped in the cockpit of a DC-3 airliner in Quantum of Solace. Indiana Jones, too, took a ride on the gleaming aircraft. More recently, the plane made an appearance in the final scene of La La Land. The classic plane, which debuted in the 1930s, has long been romanticized onscreen. Now, a group of researchers at UT has found a new purpose for the DC-3: polar explorations.

A researcher from UT’s Institute of Geophysics, Jamin Greenbaum, BS ’04, MS ’06, PhD ’15, Life Member, has used three different DC-3s to explore Antarctica and the Arctic. In 2015, Greenbaum and other UTIG researchers teamed up with the Polar Research Institute of China to survey an unknown area of Antarctica in a 1942 DC-3 used in World War II. “Besides the fact that it’s super strong, it has skis so it can lay on snow and ice, and it has a fairly decent range,” Greenbaum says. “Since it’s big, we can fit a lot of instruments on board.” The collaboration is part of a project called ICECAP/PEL—International Collaborative Exploration of the Cryosphere through Aerogeophysical Profiling—which includes the Imperial College of London, the University of Delhi, and the Australian Antarctic Division in addition to UTIG and China. On these flights, researchers operate over one thousand pounds of equipment used to gather data like ice thickness, ice elevation, and the type of rock beneath the ice. They then use the data to understand the geography of Antarctica below its ice and answer questions about tectonic plates and sea level.

The team has been surveying a region called Princess Elizabeth Land, a part of Antarctica south of India and Sri Lanka. Prior to this research, the region—about the size of Texas—was the largest unsurveyed area of any continent. The researchers think they have identified areas along the coast where India was attached to Antarctica 150 million years ago. What Greenbaum finds most pertinent is information about sea level rise. The team is looking for areas of Antarctica that are likely to be the next to retreat. “There are over 100 million people living within three feet or so of sea level around the world,” he says. “Many of the projections put global sea level at somewhere around three feet above present level at the end of the century. It’s important to those people’s lives, and there’s a lot of economic impact potentially if we aren’t prepared.”

On April 29, Greenbaum and other researchers shared their findings in Shanghai at an event attended by local Texas Exes chapter members. Hosted by the Polar Research Institute, which coordinates China’s polar research, it was held on the icebreaker ship Xuelong, and was an opportunity for alumni from universities involved in this research partnership to see what their alma maters are doing with China in Antarctica. Aboard the giant ship, Martin Siegert, a professor from Imperial College London, gave a talk about climate change, and Greenbaum gave a presentation about the research in Antarctica.

David Danvers, BBA ’73, president of the Shanghai Texas Exes chapter, says the event was a success. Danvers helped start the Shanghai chapter in 2015, which now has over 230 members. For this recent event, there was only room for a few UT alumni. Kevyn Kennedy, BA ’86, Life Member, who also helped form the chapter, and his son Matt, who will be a UT freshman in the fall, joined Danvers. “It was incredible to say the least,” Danvers says. “This is something beyond the realm of reality—what’s going on down in Antarctica, the last unexplored continent.”

Danvers moved to Shanghai 12 years ago for his job with NCR Corporation. He has since retired but still lives there, spending much of his time keeping UT connected to China. “There’s no other country like it,” he says. “We want to foster the best relations that we can.”

Aside from attending UT-related events together, the Shanghai Texas Exes chapter keeps up with what’s happening on the Forty Acres. “When the fall comes, we all get together and watch football games,” Danvers says. “Of course, they’re in the middle of the night here.” The chapter’s Alumni Reception took place in Shanghai on June 21. Featuring UT’s Executive Vice President and Provost Maurie McInnis, Life Member, it allowed alumni to connect with their alma mater.

Greenbaum says fostering relationships with other countries is particularly important in solving world problems, like sea level rise. That’s why this partnership between China, UT, and other countries is important—connecting with different countries enables researchers to collaborate and utilize research bases that are relevant to their scientific questions. “The sea level question in particular is a global problem,” Greenbaum says. “It needs a global set of solutions.”

Credits, from top: Wang Nan; Jamin S. Greenbaum


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