Toy trains explaining melting of shelf ice in Antarctica

Mirjam here!

Can we use our topics to come up with ideas for crafts projects that kids can do while we chat with them and their parents about our science? It would be cool if we could let them create something they proudly take home, that would always remind them of the science we talked about and spark conversations about it!

Here is one idea I came up with for April’s #SciCommChall: A postcard that kids can color in. The science that inspired this drawing is cutting-edge research by Elin Darelius and her team at the University of Bergen, Norway. Elin investigates how ocean currents influence melting of ice shelves floating on the water around Antarctica, and I have been involved in some of their research and outreach.

On the back of the postcard (or maybe an additional leaflet, I haven’t completely thought this through) I would print an explanation of what we see on the postcard (and obviously both the text and the drawing itself would have to be agreed upon with the research team, which they are not yet. I am just presenting an idea here!):

“This postcard shows research on how ocean currents melt ice in Antarctica.
When ocean bring warm water next to the ice, the ice melts. But where that happens, how fast, and how much ice melts depends on the properties of the currents. You can imagine the current like a toy train going past the ice, transporting warm water. But the train could go fast or slow. It could go on nice, smooth tracks, or around sharp corners, loosing some of its cargo on the way. It could be very warm or rather cold. It could carry heavy or not so heavy goods. And there are many more options that you could imagine that would influence how good a job the train does at melting the ice!
How do we know which of those options are important, and which settings are correct? To figure this out, Elin and her team go on research cruises to Antarctica and measure directly how fast the currents go, which pathways they take, their temperature and their density — all the properties that we know already we need to get right to drive our toy train like an Antarctic ocean current. Elin and her team also do experiments in large water tanks, where they can set those properties similarly to what they measured in Antarctica and see whether there are other properties they should also take into consideration.
It’s rather complicated, but it’s also very exciting! To find out more about this research, go to

What do you think? I can tell you that not everybody on the team is happy with how much I am simplifying by using the toy train as an analogy, and I completely understand and respect that. I don’t think I would have been able to talk about my own research in such simplified terms, I can completely relate to how that must feel, and maybe I have gone way too far down the rabbit hole of simplification. But I still think it’s a fun idea, and I welcome your feedback! Do you think I am simplifying too much here?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *