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Young researchers in the spotlight: Ella Gilbert

7 November 2023

We are writing profiles on early career researchers to make our younger scientists and their research more visible. It’s Ella’s turn in the spotlight!

Ella, please introduce yourself and tell us about yourself – who are you? where do you work?

Hi! I’m Ella, a regional climate modeller at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). I use the UK
Met Office Unified Model to produce model simulations of the past, present and future. I’m a
big cloud nerd, and I’ve done lots of work exploring the impacts of clouds on the atmosphere,
and on the amount of energy that reaches the surface of ice sheets and ice shelves. I’m also
interested in how atmospheric features and weather patterns impact things like melting and
sea level rise.

I really try to throw myself into public engagement – I don’t think there’s any point in doing the
research if you’re not going to share it widely and I want to share my passion for polar and
climate science with everyone. That takes many forms, but I especially like making YouTube
videos (I run a channel called Dr Gilbz) or appearing on broadcast news whenever something
about climate or polar science comes up. I’ve also presented documentaries, including ‘Lift
The Ice’ for Curiosity Stream (check out our blog post about it here) and recently worked on a
massive public arts/science installation called See Monster. We transformed a disused oil rig
into an interactive space themed around UK weather to encourage people to get involved in
science and technology.

You can check out more examples on my website if you’re interested.

What do you do for PolarRES? Is it the first project you’ve worked on?

My role in PolarRES is to produce regional climate model projections of the Arctic and
Antarctic using the UK’s MetUM model (WP3). We’re producing historical simulations of the
recent decades to compare with other modelling groups and then projecting forwards to the
end of the century using the storylines selected by our colleagues in WP1. It will help us
translate global circulation changes into regional polar climate changes, which will in turn feed
into WP6’s work on impacts.

Before PolarRES I was working at the University of Reading on another EU project called
ACACIA, which examined the impact of aviation on climate. I used a large eddy simulation
model to explore aerosol-cloud-interactions in cirrus clouds. I also wrote a course about polar
climate change for the Open University which was super fun. And before that – just after my
PhD – I got funding to do a short research project exploring the vulnerability of Antarctic ice
shelves at different levels of warming.

What is the most interesting thing you learned working on PolarRES?

I’ve really loved learning from scientists with other areas of expertise, especially the impacts
modellers. Those are the findings that are really important for us to understand because they
have tangible effects on our lives. Of course it’s critical to predict something like how much soil
temperatures will change (the kind of thing we can say with our regional climate models), but
translating into the occurrence of Arctic fires is far more relevant for people and society.

I also really love the storylines approach. I think it’s a much more understandable and
accessible way to think about possible future scenarios, and one that will really help us share
the findings with non-scientists. No-one outside of climate modelling thinks in SSP scenarios,
so using this meaningful way to talk about possible futures is really helpful.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Are you still a researcher? What are you working on?

Ideally in 5 years I’ll be doing even more science presenting and media work to translate
climate science into accessible content for non-specialists. I love polar research though, so
hopefully I’ll still have a foot in the science world.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Variously: an astronaut, an actor, and a firefighter. In some ways I feel like I’m doing some
elements of all of these in my working life now!

Who is your science idol? Someone you wish you could have a conversation with (from the past or contemporary)

It’s an obvious one, but David Attenborough. Also Katharine Hayhoe, Margaret Hamilton
who worked on the Apollo missions and Ada Lovelace.

What cool Arctic/Antarctica fact is your go-to icebreaker?

Antarctica was once a forest… and had dinosaurs… kids (and grown-up kids) love both of
these facts.

Want to get to know Ella better? Check out this video: