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A career on ice

Mason Fried '06 tracks path to glaciology

January 25, 2017 Fried—When Mason Fried ’06 was a student at Andover, glaciology may have been the furthest thought from his mind. After playing lacrosse, football, and squash and studying piano at PA, Fried entered college intent on becoming a writer. But after taking an introductory geology class at Hamilton College, his curiosity was piqued, and Fried set his course toward a career studying massive chunks of ice.

Today, Fried is working toward a PhD degree at the University of Texas at Austin. As a research assistant at UTA’s Institute for Geophysics, Fried works with a team of glaciologists and oceanographers to determine the role that oceans play in glacial melting, the effects of which range from rising sea levels to diminished drinking water. Explains Fried, “The majority of the world doesn’t have the resources to address the change.”

Fried’s work addresses those concerns. Although most of his time is spent compiling results and recording trends, Fried and his team do fieldwork in Greenland once a year—always in summer, when the weather is most hospitable to their work. Reaching their destination isn’t simple: The team flies with the Air National Guard on C-130s to Kangerlussuaq, on the western coast of Greenland. There, they board small planes or helicopters for the trip to Uummannaq, an island town in northwest Greenland. The trip takes five days and covers more than 3,000 miles. According to Fried, “There are no real highways in Greenland, and most summer travel is accomplished on planes and helicopters.”

Once in Greenland, the team stays for roughly one month, two weeks of which are spent installing weather stations, GPS systems to measure ice motion, and seismometers to measure glacier calving—the breaking away of ice from glaciers.

Glacier

Fried enjoys collaborating with other scientists who study geology and glaciology, as well as traveling to remote and beautiful parts of the world, such as the Ukrainian Vernadsky Research Base on the Antarctic Peninsula, which he visited as an undergraduate. The base is a former British station and famously features a lounge with a gorgeous handmade wooden bar dating back to the 1950s. The trip not only was productive but also gave Fried and his team the opportunity to engage with other geologists. “At the end of the day, we all made time for vodka and music at the bar.”

Looking back on his days at PA, Fried recalls piano lessons with his music instructor, playing songs as they popped into their heads. He also has fond memories of starting the spring lacrosse season with snow still on the ground.

Fried believes there are many routes to a career in science, and says his diverse studies at Andover helped shape his path. His advice to students interested in pursuing glaciology? “A career in science is certainly attainable, and there are many avenues to get there. … We need physicists and writers and people with big ideas.”

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017 edition of Andover magazine.

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