Stephanie L. Pfirman

In 1894, Fridjof Nansen, a Norwegian scientist, was surprised to see on an expedition that Arctic sea ice wasn't always white and pristine, but was often discolored by dust and mud. He vowed to return one day to discover where the sediment was coming from. But Nansen never did return, and 100 years later I became intrigued by the same question when I saw the wide expanses of "dirty" ice in the Arctic. As a result, my main research interest is determining the role of sea ice - a transport mechanism unique to the Arctic - in the redistribution of sediments and pollutants in the Arctic. When I sample a floe for sediment or pollutant load, I want to know where it came from, what's happened to it since the ice first formed and where the ice is going to melt and release its incorporated materials.

I am developing and using a variety of methods to find answers to these questions. In a broader view, an unusual combination of environmental conditions in the Arctic exacerbates climate change, ozone depletion and deposition of pollutants. DDT and heavy metals from regions far to the south accumulate in the Arctic marine food chain. I am interested in finding out how warming in the Arctic could affect the pathways and fate of contaminants.

Fields of Interest

Role of sea ice in the redistribution of sediments and pollutants in the Arctic


  • Ph.D., MIT, 1985
  • Bachelor of Arts, Colgate, 1978