Seismic Excitement

12 July 2018

When Sheng Fan moved to Dunedin from China just over a year ago, he was planning to study tectonic movement and New Zealand’s Alpine fault. Little did he know that a different type of geographical movement was on his horizon.

“I never thought I would be able to do Antarctic research. It has always been a dream of mine, but until I came here, I really didn’t think it would be possible” says the University of Otago PhD candidate.

But Sheng Fan’s dream is about to come true. He has just been awarded the Antarctica New Zealand Scholarship which will see him travel to Antarctica this season to research glaciers.

“This opportunity to test my scientific ‘imaginations’ in Antarctica is incredible. I’m using technology in a new way to measure how glaciers flow … it’s really exciting.”

Sheng is studying how dust and gravel in glaciers influence their flow. This season, he’ll use sound waves to measure the ice structure and how it moves under different stress.

“The first step is to make mini glaciers in the lab and experiment on how they flow with dust particles. Then, when I go to Antarctica, I’ll be able to upscale that model to a life-size experiment!” he says. “To get this first-hand data is really exciting. Scientists have applied seismological instruments in the past – but never like this in an Antarctic glacier.”

Sheng will collaborate with scientists at New Zealand’s Scott Base as well as from the Korean Antarctic Programme.

“International cooperation is really good. We’ll learn a lot from each other, especially when it comes to applying different types of technology.”

Sheng hopes his project will have a positive outcome and is confident it will benefit New Zealand research.

“New Zealand is a great place for research, I am so grateful for the support I have received here. If I get the chance, I would really like to contribute more to the New Zealand Antarctic research programme” he says. “Special thanks goes to my supervisor, Professor David Prior. I sincerely appreciate his trust, support and guidance.”

Antarctica New Zealand Acting Chief Scientific Advisor, Dr Fiona Shanhun, says Sheng’s innovative approach really impressed the panel choosing this year’s Antarctic Scholarships.

“Sheng is just starting out in his Antarctic science career yet, with this project, he has the ability to make a strong contribution to our knowledge. Antarctica New Zealand is thrilled to support top students like Sheng in our scholarship programme” Dr Shanhun says.

Sheng is one of three candidates to receive Antarctic Scholarships this year. Florence Isaacs, from Victoria University of Wellington, also received an Antarctica New Zealand Scholarship, and Michael Bollen, from the University of Otago, received the NZ Post Antarctic Scholarship.


Sheng Fan
University of Otago
021 088 42396

Megan Martin
GM Communications
Antarctica New Zealand
027 2205 989