In dialogue

Collective knowledge for glacier research

When groups of researchers measure glaciers in the mountains of Sweden or the Himalayas, it is important for them to work as a team, including with local people. A dialogue between the Indian glacier expert Dr Shaktiman Singh from the University of Aberdeen and his former German intern Martha Schuchardt.

Issue 2 | 2022

Shaktiman Singh: Martha, do you remember how our team set off to do field research at the Swedish research station Abisko close to the Arctic Circle in 2019? We were charting glaciers and you were my first really good intern. Our team worked wonderfully well together.

Martha Schuchardt: How could I forget! I was so happy that a DAAD scholarship had given me the opportunity right at the start of my studies to immerse myself in the work of an international research group. It marked the beginning of a lot of new things for me: as my second supervisor, you later supported me while I was writing my bach­elor’s thesis on the analysis of long-term weather ­data. Furthermore, after those three months I knew exactly which area of science I wished to work in: remote sensing in polar and glacier research.

Shaktiman Singh: I’m delighted to hear that. You already knew a great deal at the time. I really appreciate the many skills that my students – especially those from Germany – bring with them, such as vital technological knowledge from their studies and everyday lives.

Martha Schuchardt: I would say that you coaxed my knowledge out of me – with your professional and personal openness, your respectful way of communicating and the appreciation you showed me. It was only through our exchanges that I realised that I did, in fact, already have some specialist knowledge. A degree in geography is very ­interdisciplinary in Germany, so at first it’s hard to work out whether you know a lot or nothing at all. The internship with you in Sweden gave me self-confidence on many different levels.

“If there is one thing I’ve learnt dur­ing the course of my career, it’s that human exchange is synonymous with the exchange of knowledge.”

Shaktiman Singh: If there is one thing I’ve learnt during the course of my career, it’s that ­human exchange is synonymous with the exchange of knowledge. And in a heterogenous international team that can spawn impressive creative ideas. Collective knowledge is of immense importance in glacier research because climate change is accelerating glacier melt to such an extent, which in turn is impacting and will continue to impact millions of people, especially in India. Consequently, we scientists also have to keep getting quicker and better. I am currently exploring the possibility of artificial glaciers in the Himalayas. We also draw on trad­itional local knowledge to help us come up with innovative solutions. For this to be possible, however, one must approach local people respectfully, familiarise oneself with their culture and learn that glaciers are part of their cultural legacy and that their importance is recognised there. If there is trust, people will open up and share their knowledge – about the most probable path that a landslide will take, for ­example.

Martha Schuchardt: I like this careful approach to cultural exchange. I remember that you also introduced me to the King when he visited the university in Sweden. What an experience! You always consider and connect everyone, and that’s also how it was in Abisko. You taught me this fundamental principle of exchange and I hope that I will one day have the chance to do research work with you in the Himalayas.

Shaktiman Singh: All of this is, in fact, what I learnt myself during my time on a DAAD scholarship in Dresden. I arrived there with the widespread notion that Germans were a tough nut to crack and very reserved. Coming from India, where people are hugging each other all the time, I was told that Germans value their privacy. I took this to heart and initially maintained a respectful distance from my host. But we then ended up going hiking together, sharing our everyday lives and knowledge – and there was not a hint of reserve. —

Dr Shaktiman Singh is a glaciologist and lecturer at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. He received his PhD at Sharda University in India on glacio-hydrological processes and also conducted research in this area at TU Dresden on a DAAD scholarship from 2016 to 2017. More information about Dr Singh’s work can be found on the website Alumniportal Deutschland:

Martha Schuchardt did a three-month DAAD-funded research internship at Luleå University of Technology in Sweden during her BSc in geography at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. She was assigned as an intern to Shaktiman Singh, who was researching and teaching there as a postdoc.