English professor participates in Northwest Passage Project expedition

Kirsten Schlorff
July 19, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Hester Blum, Penn State associate professor of English and a 2019 Guggenheim Fellow, will be tracking climate change in the Arctic Ocean as part of the Northwest Passage Project (NPP) research expedition.

The nautical expedition launched from Thule Air Base in Thule, Greenland, on July 18 and will return Aug. 4, sailing approximately 2,000 nautical miles through the Arctic on the Swedish Icebreaker Oden. During the 18-day journey, a team of natural and social scientists and 25 post-secondary students from the U.S. and Canada will study vital signs of a rapidly changing Arctic Ocean. The project will help fill critical data gaps in existing scientific knowledge of the Arctic Ocean.

Blum will be part of the expedition until July 25, when she disembarks the Oden in Canada. While on board, she will provide some of the teaching instruction to the students making the voyage who will share their expedition experiences through social media. She also plans to discuss with students the similarities between the communication methods used in the 19th century and today, as well as the history behind Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition that vanished at sea after departing England in 1845 to explore the Arctic.

“I became involved in the project through my participation in the Polar Center at Penn State, where I worked with colleagues in polar climate science, glaciology and Arctic biology,” said Blum, who has spent her entire career researching how the literary and nautical worlds intersect.

Led by the University of Rhode Island's Inner Space Center, with major funding provided by the U.S. National Science Foundation and additional support from the Heising-Simons Foundation, the NPP will include the first-ever live, interactive broadcasts from the Northwest Passage.

Educators, film professionals, journalists, scientists and students onboard will use telepresence technologies to stream broadcasts to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, Alaska SeaLife Center, the Exploratorium and through Facebook Live. Blum appeared in a July 25 expedition update provided live on Facebook.

Hester Blum will be part of the expedition until July 25, when she disembarks the Oden in Canada. While on board, she will provide some of the teaching instruction to the students making the voyage who will share their expedition experiences through social media. She also plans to discuss with students the similarities between the communication methods used in the 19th century and today, as well as the history behind Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition that vanished at sea after departing England in 1845 to explore the Arctic.

Emmy Award-winning director David Clark will produce and direct a two-hour television documentary, “Frozen Obsession,” which will explore the changing Arctic by documenting the NPP expedition. The film will highlight the expedition's research and document the activities and experiences of the diverse group of participants.

Special screening events will take place at each of the NPP partner institutions, at Penn State's Polar Center and at the Environmental Film Festival. The film will have a future television broadcast and will also be available for future theatrical distribution.

“I’m ecstatic that Professor Blum is representing the English department and our college in this first-ever research experience of its kind,” said Clarence Lang, Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts. “I’m especially proud that she’s a humanist engaged in activity typically associated with the natural sciences. She’s a true exemplar of the cross-disciplinary scholarly innovations that Liberal Arts faculty at Penn State are achieving.”

“I’m grateful for the support I have received from my colleagues in the College of the Liberal Arts, the Huck Institutes of Life Sciences and the Institutes of Energy and the Environment, which has allowed me to take part in this expedition,” Blum said.

  • Hester Blum

    Hester Blum, Penn State associate professor of English and a 2019 Guggenheim Fellow, will be tracking climate change in the Arctic Ocean as part of the Northwest Passage Project research expedition.

    IMAGE: Hester Blum

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 26, 2019