Women In Science

Measuring The Ice Sheets to Understand Our Changing World

Brooke Medley, PhD

Research Scientist, Cryospheric Sciences Lab, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

We reached out to Brooke Medley immediately after seeing her and her work featured in the Great Big Story short film Operation Ice: Melting the Heart of Man. The film provides background on Greenland’s melting glaciers and how Brooke and her team of scientists from NASA’s Operation IceBridge are studying the global impacts of that reality.

Brooke’s research is focused on understanding how our planet’s ice sheets are changing to help quantify their role in sea-level rise. Specifically, she uses airborne and field measurements of snowfall over Greenland and Antarctica to determine how our changing climate is impacting the health of both ice sheets.



“The takeaway here is do not let failure get in your way. I fail daily (it’s how science works!), but it only makes me a stronger scientist and human being. The same applies to YOU!”


What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing your specific field?

First off, good choice 😉! Our field (sadly) still suffers from a shortage of female participation, but please do not let that discourage you as there are many wonderful women who have paved the way for the rest of us! I was stunned by the beauty of glaciers (I was 21 when I saw a glacier for the first time), and I decided to pursue glaciology as a career.

From a practical standpoint, I would recommend having a good foundation in math and physics, but it is equally as important to have a thirst for knowledge and strong curiosity. Ask questions! And when you solve one, ask another! I would also recommend taking interest early in your academic career: if you have projects assigned to you, choose a topic or problem that interests YOU! Remember, there are NO dumb questions. I repeat: there are NO dumb questions.


Talk about the challenges you faced as a trailblazer in your field, or a time when you failed and how you overcame it.

A scientist’s career is often based on their ability to publish papers on their research, so I was delighted when a very prestigious and selective journal decided to send a paper I had submitted out to review – I was over the moon! Only a very small percentage of papers that are submitted even go to review; most are rejected outright. Three and a half months later, I received an email stating that they decided to reject my paper anyway. I was devastated. Not only was the paper not going to be published in this prestigious journal, I also lost nearly 4 months of time waiting for the decision.

After just a few tears, I decided that I would make the best of the situation. Even though the paper was rejected, I still received great comments from the people who reviewed the paper, so I decided to incorporate as many of their suggestions as possible. Now I’m about to resubmit the paper to another journal, and I am confident that my failure at the first journal has improved my paper significantly and the chance of acceptance at the next journal. The paper was good, and now it is great! The rejection was painful, but I take comfort knowing that my paper is better because of it, and I am even more proud of my work within than I was before.

The takeaway here is do not let failure get in your way. I fail daily (it’s how science works!), but it only makes me a stronger scientist and human being. The same applies to YOU!


Where do you anticipate the next big opportunity for girls in your field and what can they do to position themselves for success?

Ooh! That is a tough one! Frankly, our field is still somewhat in its infancy, so I think there are a lot of work and research opportunities for anyone who is interested. Let’s see. If you are interested in going into the field (literally!) to take measurements, there is a lot of work that is focused on minimizing our impact on these pristine environments. We want to be able to make measurements with the same “leave no trace” attitude that we use at home in our National Parks. Some exciting areas of work in our field revolve around designing and engineering new ways of taking the same measurements, but in a less invasive way. We want to leave these untouched areas just that, untouched. This would be perfect for future engineers or girls who love tinkering with and building things. A real challenge for the creative mind!

Our field very much relies on satellite measurements since glaciers are – frankly – hard to get to and can often be too cold or dangerous for humans to touch foot there. Satellite technology has changed our view of our planet’s ice sheets, and they undoubtedly will continue to do so into the future. Therefore, girls should try to become familiar with the basics of remote sensing, no matter how basic. So many great tools out there exist (such as Google Earth) that people can start working with satellite data more easily than before. The ability to write your own computer scripts or codes would improve your chance for success, as well.

Those are the two examples that pop into my mind immediately, but as I mentioned already, the field has so many research opportunities, it’s hard to pick! My advice: be curious, ask questions, challenge yourself, learn from your failures, be proud of your successes, and work hard in school! If something interests you, email an expert! Seriously, we are normal people and are honored and humbled when people show interest in our work.


Celebrating Women in Science

February 11th is International Women & Girls in Science Day, so please join us in honoring these amazing women by sharing their stories and reminding every girl interested in STEM that with the desire, access, and a little persistence, they can do anything!

To read more about our tribute to the Women of Science, click here.


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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Fran Back With A Bump
    February 27, 2018 at 4:19 am

    We definitely need more women in science. A really interesting post.

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