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Thursday, 06 March 2008 11:42

Simon Belt - Scientists

scientists_04.jpgSimon Belt
Centre for Chemical Sciences
School of Earth, Ocean and Environmental Sciences
University of Plymouth
United Kingdom

What questions related to the Arctic are you trying to answer? My main area of interest in the Arctic concerns the sea ice. This is the part of the Arctic Ocean that freezes in the winter and melts in the summer. In recent times, there has been growing concern that the amount of sea ice is getting smaller and smaller due to global warming. In order to better understand how important these changes are and how they might affect the planet in the future, we need to have a much better understanding of how the amount of sea ice has changed in the past. At the moment, we have good sea ice records for about 30 years, but that’s not really enough if we are trying to make good predictions for the future.

Sea ice is very important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it acts as a kind of ‘sun-screen’, limiting some of the sun’s rays from warming our oceans. Secondly, it plays a role in controlling the currents in the oceans and therefore contributes to things such as the Gulf Stream. Thirdly, starting with bacteria and algae, and finishing with large mammals like polar bears, it plays a key role in biological food chains in the arctic and Antarctic.


How will answers to those questions help us understand more about our world? At the moment, it is clear that we are experiencing a period of warming on Earth. What is less clear is how the influence of humans is contributing to this and how much of this warming is due to natural processes. Both are evident, but what are their relative contributions? In order to answer these questions, we need to understand how the natural processes influenced the Earth before mankind could have had any influence. In addition, if we have a better idea of the importance of these factors, we can better advise recommendations for the future. From a biological point-of-view, by examining the plants and animals that live in or on top of the sea ice, we can better predict the effect that reducing the sea ice will have on life in the polar regions of the planet

How are you trying to find the answers to those questions? To examine historical record of sea ice on Earth, we are carrying out experiments with Arctic sediments or the mud that lies at the bottom of the ocean in the Arctic. This may seem strange at first, since we are interested in the sea ice at the sea surface, not what goes on at the bottom. We do this because ice melts in the summer, so there is no direct record of its occurrence.

Instead, we use a ‘fossil-approach’. Certain micro-organisms live in the ice and grow really well during the Spring. When the ice melts in the summer, they fall through the sea water below and [settle] into the sediment or mud on the ocean bed. These organisms are very fragile and dissolve easily releasing some chemicals into the mud. Just as we use fingerprints to identify if a person has been in a particular location or has handled a specific object, we know if the chemical is present in the mud, there must have been the micro-organism that made it which, in turn, means there must have been sea ice at that time. If the chemical is absent, then the sea ice must have been absent.

By analysing long sections of mud which might be tens, hundreds or even thousands of years old, we are able to use this fingerprint approach to build a historical record of Arctic sea ice. To better understand the influence of the sea ice on biological organisms, we use the same fingerprint method to trace which animals are feeding on the organisms in the ice and which are found higher up in the food chain.

Recount for us one of your field days in the Arctic. No two days of work in the Arctic are the same. With changes in location, changes in the weather and problems with scientific equipment, there is usually something to get in the way of best made scientific plans!

On one occasion in 2007, I was taking part in some fieldwork aboard the Canadian ice-breaker, CGS Amundsen. We were sailing from East to West through the North-West Passage in northern Canada. Unusually, all of the conditions were perfect. Fantastic sunny weather, virtually no wind and all of the equipment on board was working. We were having a perfect day for sampling the ice, the water beneath the ice and mud on the ocean floor beneath all of that.

During a brief break, we took a trip to the top of the ship (the bridge) and admired to view in all directions. Everything was very still and peaceful. All of a sudden, the captain announced that she had spotted two well-camouflaged animals moving on the ice a few miles away on the horizon. It could only mean one thing-–polar bears.
All 70 of the crew and scientists on the ship assembled on the deck, jostling for position in hope of catching a rare glimpse of these symbolic creatures of the Arctic. To our amazement, as the ship slowed down and approached them, the bears did not run away but, in fact, came even closer. All this, despite us being on the only ship around, a hundred metres in length, thousands of tonnes in weight and bright red!

Eventually, the mother and cub were directly next to the ship and everyone was able to take photos and make videos. It was a real treat. After a few minutes, the polar bears retreated behind a small iceberg, the ship changed direction and it was time to go back to work. It was an unforgettable experience.

What do you find most rewarding about being a scientist? There are many things that are exciting about being a scientist. Firstly, you get to travel to some parts of the world that some people can only dream about. Secondly, you get to work on real world problems that are important to everyone on Earth. Thirdly, you get to do experiments and make discoveries that nobody else has ever done before. Finally, through the media, you get to tell the world about what you do.

Thursday, 06 March 2008 11:40

More Resources - Scientists

scientists_02.jpgScientists - More Resources

The International Polar Year’s webpage for Educators has a catalog of lesson plans, activities, classroom posters, discussion groups, podcasts, live chats with scientists in the field, and other resources for teachers. Classrooms can launch a virtual balloon to show their involvement with the IPY and participate in IPY Science Days every three months.

Citizen Science, the science and technology program of SustainUS, mobilizes young people to advance scientific approaches to sustainable development. Citizen Science is committed to raising awareness in the United States of existing and emerging technologies designed to improve economic, social, and environmental conditions for current and future generations. Citizen Science attempts to bring together the many areas of science for a widely diverse, complex, and exciting arena to support the science behind Sustainable Development. The three major components of the program are the annual paper competition, the newly launched listserv, and partnership building. Members range in age from 13 – 26. On the local level, SustainUS members participate in activities and projects coordinated by Geoclusters. These activities include things like, creating a sustainable map of the Geocluster city, organizing a sustainable development career fair, and holding workshops on biodiesel fuel.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute’s Live from the Poles gives an inside look at four major scientific expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic. Storytellers, photographers and videographers share not just the research teams’ tools and findings, but also how they get to remote locations like the North Pole, how they stay warm when the mercury drops, and even what they eat for lunch.

The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Scientific Integrity Curriculum Guide is designed to help undergraduate and advanced high school instructors foster thoughtful discussions about the proper role of science in federal policy making in the classroom. The guide includes lesson slides, worksheets, homework assignments, and essay suggestions.

Thursday, 06 March 2008 11:39

Action! - Scientists

scientists_01.jpgScientists - Action!

You don’t have to go through years of training to help with scientific research. Many Citizen Science programs exist where hobby-scientists do some of the field work necessary to help professional scientists. Visit Citizen Science in Action to find a list of projects where you can help research a variety of topics- from birding migrations, to butterfly life cycles, to population cycles and movement, plus a variety of non-biological possibilities like mapping communities or searching the skies.

Some of the best-known Citizen Science projects are the Audubon Society’s Bird Counts []. For over a century, volunteers have been collecting information on the birds in their communities during the Christmas Bird Count. There is also a bird count on Presidents’ Day Weekend as well as an ongoing eBird database that is used to study population distribution and movement.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also uses Citizen Scientists to help collect data. The EPA directory lists volunteer organizations around the country engaged in monitoring rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, wetlands, and ground water, as well as surrounding lands.

Join one of these projects and help scientists collect information about our world so we can better understand it and the changes it is experiencing.

Thursday, 06 March 2008 11:38

Discussion Starters - Scientists

scientists_02.jpgScientists - Discussion Starters

Teachers: Use the following information to spark discussion in your classroom. Familiarize students with the events, people and organizations in the following paragraphs and then encourage students to discuss their opinions and reactions. There are several example questions and suggested areas for discussion. Remind your students that discussion requires well-supported opinions, respectful listening, and sometimes agreeing to disagree.

Although there is scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that the majority of that warming is likely caused by humans, the general public remains confused about this basic fact. Some of this confusion comes from the complex nature of the issue and the difficulty scientists have communicating complicated or subtle issues through the mass media to an audience that may not have a strong science background. Some of the confusion may also come from deliberate efforts by certain groups to confuse and mislead the public or to muzzle scientists.

In a December 12, 2007 lecture,.University of California Science Historian Naomi Oreskes traces the history of scientific consensus building about human caused global warming and then highlights the actions of one organization she asserts has misrepresented science and contributed to public confusion.
First Dr. Oreskes explains that a scientific consensus that human actions were contributing to global warming existed as early as 1979 when the Assembly of Mathematical and Physical Sciences released a report stating:
"A plethora of studies from diverse sources indicates a consensus that climate changes will result from man's combustion of fossil fuels and changes in land use." Source: National Academy of Sciences Archive An Evaluation of the Evidence for CO2-induced Climate Change. Assembly of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Climate Research Board, Study Group on Carbon Dioxide, 1979.
Then Oreskes reveals that even earlier in 1965, the President’s Science Advisory Committee warned we "will modify the heat balance of the atmosphere to such an extent that marked changes in climate . . . could occur." This prompted President Lyndon Johnson to give a special message to Congress in 1965 stating, "This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through...a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels."

Oreskes continues by outlining steps the U.S. government took to address the issue of climate change including passing the National Energy Policy Act of 1988 "to establish a national energy policy that will quickly reduce the generation of carbon dioxide and trace gases as quickly as is feasible in order to slow the pace and degree of atmospheric protect the global environment."
It was not only the scientific community and the government that was paying attention to the issue. The New York Times wrote on August 23, 1988, "The issue of an overheating world has suddenly moved to the forefront of public concern."

At the U.N. Framework Convention of Climate Change (1992) George H. W. Bush signed the document and called on world leaders to translate the written document into "concrete action to protect the planet"
Dr. Oreskes then asks how today, almost thirty years after the first scientific consensus emerged that humans are impacting global climate, the perception remains among a large portion of the public that scientists are still debating whether or not humans are contributing to global warming. She claims it is because the public has been repeatedly told by the media that there is no consensus.

Why does the media give the impression of a scientific debate where none exists? Oreskes suggests it may be partly due to strategists like Frank Luntz, a corporate and political consultant and pollster who worked for Fox News, whose leaked 2002 memo to the Bush Administration stated, "Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue."

Oreskes also suggests that it may be due in part to the work of the George C. Marshall Institute, founded in 1984, whose board members include people who have worked in the past to claim that CFCs do not harm the ozone layer, that sulfur and nitrogen emissions do not cause acid rain, and that smoking does not damage health. Although these previous causes were abandoned after public sentiment and lawsuits made the arguments longer tenable, the Marshall Institute uses the same strategies employed in the earlier fights to try to foster confusion about climate change.

What Oreskes calls “The Tobacco Strategy” is to use the popular media (in contrast to the scientific literature that requires peer-review) to create the impression that the science is uncertain, concerns are exaggerated, technology will solve the problem, and there is no need for government intervention. Once published in the popular press, their articles are picked up by listserves, websites, and talk radio shows and continue to circulate.
Another strategy the Marshall Institute uses is to push journalists for what they call “balance.” In this strategy they insist that media pays an equal amount of attention to what they call “both sides” of the issue, even though there are thousands and thousands of scientists who agree with the basic tenets of human-caused global warming and only a handful of scientists who do not. This idea of balance appeals to journalists’ own sense of fairness and so they often end up giving equal time to global warming “skeptics” thus creating the impression of the existence of a scientific debate when there is none.

Oreskes claims the “balance strategy” works. She cites an analysis of print media (Boykoff & Boykoff, 2004) who found that more than 52% of Climate Change articles published in prestige media (like The New York Times and Washington Post) gave equal time to the view that global warming either was not happening or was not being caused by humans as they gave to the mainstream scientific positions. Only a third of the stories reflected the actual scientific perspective that the anthropogenic contribution to global warming was dominant.

Why would scientists working for the Marshall Institute misrepresent science and try to confuse the American people? Dr. Oreskes believes it is because they are disguising an ideological argument as a scientific one. These men (S. Fred Singer, William Nierenberg, and Frederick Seitz) worked diligently to help the U.S. win the Cold War. Oreskes thinks they are “market fundamentalists” who have an unshakeable faith in free markets to solve all problems, who see government regulation as a form of creeping communism and who worry that signing treaties like the Kyoto Protocol would undermine national sovereignty. Dr. Oreskes concludes by saying, “these men may have been perfectly justified in their political beliefs, but they did not make a political argument on political grounds; they disguised a political debate as a scientific one.”


  • Does Naomi Oreskes’ description of how distortion in popular media coverage of global warming science has led to public confusion seem plausible to you?
    • What do you think are some of the biggest sources of public confusion about global warming?
  • Do you get the impression from the media you watch or read that scientists are still debating about whether or not humans are causing global warming? If so, what gives you that impression?
    • Do you know how to tell the difference between an article written for a popular media source and a study published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal? Do you think most people can tell the difference?
    • How strong of a science background do you think one would need to be able to be an informed media consumer on the topic of global warming?
      • Do you feel you are savvy enough to understand media coverage of global warming?
      • Do you think most of your friends/family/neighbors/elected officials are?
  • What impact do you think the level of public confusion about global warming has had on our ability as a society to take action to slow it?
  • Is it important to understand the science of global warming while filling the following roles? Why or why not?
    • Consumer
    • Citizen
    • Journalist
    • Government official
    • Business leader
    • Religious leader
  • What could be done to lessen public confusion?
  • How could you help your friends/family/neighbors/elected officials better understand the fact that a scientific consensus exists that humans are contributing to global warming?


Thursday, 06 March 2008 11:36

Lesson Plan - Scientists

scientists_04.jpgScientists - Lesson Plans

Central questions:

  • How do scientists learn about our world?
  • What questions are scientists currently asking about the Polar regions?
  • What is it like to be a scientist in the Polar regions?


  • Each student will read about a scientist and his/her work.
  • Students will introduce their scientist to their classmates.
  • Students will discuss how the work of numerous scientists contributes to knowledge.

Time Needed: At least forty-five minutes

Grade Level: Middle School or High School

INTRODUCTION (5 minutes)

Explain to your students that scientist is just another word for investigator. Similar to detectives, scientists look at the world with a curious perspective and then work to discover new knowledge. Individual scientists or teams of scientists work to answer specific questions on narrow topics. Large groups of scientists then analyze many studies to try to develop a logical explanation of how a system works. Scientists then continue to test their explanation. An explanation gets stronger and stronger as more and more scientists design ways to test the model.

According to the National Academy of Sciences (2005), “Some scientific explanations are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them. The explanation becomes a scientific theory. In everyday language a theory means a hunch or speculation. Not so in science. In science, the word theory refers to a comprehensive explanation of an important feature of nature that is supported by many facts gathered over time. Theories also allow scientists to make predictions about as yet unobserved phenomena.”

Because so many different and independent studies contribute to the formation of a theory, one single study that disagrees with the theory does not overturn it. Instead, if the results of a study appear to disagree with an established theory, other scientists review the study, try to replicate its results, look for errors, or try to figure out why it got the results it did.

For example, from 1979 to 2001 some satellite measurements of the temperature in the atmosphere were suggesting that the lower atmosphere was not warming. This finding did not agree with the well-established theory of global warming. Scientists worked to figure out what was causing the disagreement and in 2002 found that the satellite measurements needed a number of adjustments and calibrations. Once corrected, the satellite measurements confirmed the theory of a warming atmosphere (Source: Mears, C.A., Schabel, M.C., & Wentz, F.J. Journal of Climate, May 23, 2003).


Explain to your students that they will have the opportunity to become familiar with some of the scientists doing work in the Arctic as part of the International Polar Year (IPY). The IPY runs from March 2007 to March 2009 (it is really two years so it can include two research seasons at both poles) and is coordinated by the International Council for Science and the World Meteorological Organization. Its goal is to focus scientific attention on the Polar Regions.

Explain to the students that you will distribute a “Meet a Scientist” hand-out to each student. The students will have five minutes to read the hand-out. They will then have another two minutes to take notes on the scientist’s work and life in the field. Each student will use his or her notes to give a two-minute introduction of his or her scientist to a small group of classmates. Each student’s presentation should cover:

  • The scientist’s name
  • The question the scientist is trying to answer
  • The importance of that question
  • How the scientist is attempting to answer the question

Each student’s presentation should also include a short re-telling of an incident the scientist experienced in the field or a creative story about what the scientist experiences in a typical day. Explain to your students that humans have been using storytelling for generations to pass on knowledge and to entertain. Storytelling can make distant experiences “come alive” for an audience.
Give your students some basics on storytelling (source:

  • Pretend you’re confident.
  • Relax, breathe and have fun with it.
  • Use your own words—don’t try to memorize.
  • Just remember a few parts of the plot.
  • Let your imagination create the magic.
  • If you get stuck, don’t frown, curse or apologize—keep going by describing details of sounds, colors, smells, etc. until you remember the story


  1. Divide the class into groups of no more than six. Distribute one “Meet a Scientist” hand-out to each student. (2 minutes)
  2. Each student reads his or her hand-out. (5 minutes)
  3. Each student takes notes in preparation for his or her presentation to the group and mentally prepares for storytelling. (2 minutes)
  4. Each student presents on his or her scientist to his or her small group for a maximum of two minutes. (15 minutes)

Bring the class back together in one large group to discuss the activity. Here are some example questions you might choose:

  • Who can explain how scientific knowledge is gained?
  • What new insights did you gain about how science works?
  • How do the studies one scientist or group of scientists is doing fit in with studies other scientists are doing?
  • What aspects of the being a scientist do you think would be exciting? Rewarding? Frustrating?
  • Do you think most people understand how scientific knowledge is gained?
  • Scientists analyzed thousands of studies to produce the Fourth IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Report. This report finds that most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic (man-made) greenhouse gas concentrations.”
    • Do you think if some people do not understand how scientific theories become well established, that they might get confused about a well-established theory like global warming if they see one or two studies that seem to disagree with it?

Notes to teachers:

  • While your students are reading their hand-outs, preparing for their presentations, and presenting to each other circulate among them to make sure they are staying focused on the task and to answer any questions they might have.
  • There are more than six hand-outs. You can chose which ones will be most appropriate and engaging for your individual students.
  • Will Steger’s Global Warming 101 expedition to Ellesmere Island in the high Arctic will draw attention to some of the scientific projects being conducted as part of the IPY. You and your students can follow the expedition on

Thursday, 06 March 2008 12:37

Richard Weber - Explorers (Modern)


In 1995 Canadian Richard Weber and Russian Mikikail Malakov became the first and only people to ski unsupported from Northern Canada to the North Pole and back to Canada. They traveled by ski, pulling sleds for 123 days!

This was not Richard’s first or only Arctic expedition, however. From 1978 to 2006, Richard participated in more than 45 Arctic expeditions and is the only person to have completed six full expeditions to the North Pole. On a 1986 expedition led by Will Steger, Richard and a teammate became the first Canadians to reach the North Pole without motorized transportation. In 2006 Richard and British explorer Conrad Dickenson were the first to reach the North Pole traveling solely by snowshoe.

Richard and his wife Josee Auclair own Arctic Watch, Canada’s most northerly lodge. With their company Canadian Arctic Holidays they outfit, organize and lead Arctic expeditions and guide clients to the North Pole.


Q (Will Steger Foundation): You’ve been traveling in the Arctic for over thirty years and you have led more trips to the North Pole than probably anyone else. Have you seen any changes in the environment or in pack ice in the time that you’ve been traveling?
A (Richard Weber): I didn’t think it would be possible to see changes because the variations in the weather from year to year are so different and when you’re walking on the Arctic Ocean you’re looking at such a relatively small piece of ice, but last year when we were up there it was really different than twenty years ago. The pack ice is visibly thinner - when you come to a crack and look in it’s much much thinner. Twenty years ago it was eight to twelve feet thick now it’s three to six feet thick; it’s much thinner. I think in consequence, when you get pressure on the pans they now crumple up.

Last year from Ward Hunt Island almost to the North Pole we had only three big pans—big open spaces, the rest was just rubble. Twenty years ago you would have a big pressure ridge with lumps of ice the size of houses and cars all piled up–a significant obstacle—and then you would have a big open space. Now the pressure ridges aren’t that big anymore but there are no open spaces anymore; it’s just rubble and rubble.

And the weather was fifteen to twenty degrees warmer. Yeah, you can say it was just a warm year, but I don’t think that kind of weather would have happened twenty years ago. That’s the way the weather is going. We had whiteouts and warm weather, you know, May weather in April. By May, the Arctic Ocean was turning to porridge. You couldn’t travel on it anymore. Whereas before in 1992 we traveled and it didn’t do that until the 22nd of June. Things have significantly changed.

Q (WSF): Have the changes affected your ability to travel on the Arctic Ocean?
A (RW): I think, at least last year, it was not possible to ski, to travel from the North Pole back to Canada. Travel in May became impossible last year. There were three expeditions attempting to come from the pole back to Canada and none of them were successful. So I think that it is becoming more difficult. Maybe we will have a colder year this year and maybe there will be some more wind and it will be a bit easier, but definitely it is getting harder—there is no question.

Another significant change is last year for the first time the currents of the Arctic Ocean changed. Normally when you ski from Canada to the North Pole you are basically drifting east and south and we drifted west the whole time. Later on I found out that, yep, every current throughout the Arctic ocean changed last year for the first time. So something is really different up there from twenty years ago.

Q (WSF): What impacts or what effects would you imagine a trend that continued in this direction would have on polar exploration?
A (RW): If it continues like this, in twenty years [the Arctic Ocean] is going to be open water in the summer. So all of a sudden for the planet we are going to have this huge black space instead of a huge white space, so that’s going to make things really different and that’s going to change the weather. As it goes that way, it’s going to speed up and things are going to change more and more…

We’ve been at Arctic Watch, our lodge on Somerset Island] almost ten years now. Twice now we’ve seen electrical storms. And there are local people who had never seen electrical storms. It’s simply too warm. We are getting temperatures up into the low twenties in the summer now. I haven’t been there long enough to know if that is normal or not normal. But we’ve seen areas where there are steep banks that normally hold together because they are frozen but now the permafrost is melting and you have huge slides along the river everywhere there are steep banks. I don’t have enough experience to say, yeah that happens every summer, but I don’t think so because [the river banks] wouldn’t be there; it would look different. So there is definitely melting of the permafrost in our area.

Thursday, 06 March 2008 12:35

Lonnie Dupre - Explorers (Modern)


During the last 20 years, Lonnie Dupre has traveled over 14,000 miles throughout the Polar regions by dog team, ski and kayak. Lonnie made a 3,000-mile, first, west to east winter transit of Canada’s Northwest Passage in 1991 by dog team. In 2001, Lonie along with Australian John Hoelscher became the first to circumnavigate Greenland’s 6,500 miles of coastline. This was completed all non-motorized by dog team and kayak.
In 2006, Lonie and Eric Larsen’s One World Expedition completed the first summer expedition to the North Pole pulling and paddling modified canoe/sleds over 600 miles shifting sea ice. Lonnie and Eric reached the Pole on July 1st and in the process reached 68 million people worldwide with a message about global warming. Lonnie lives in Minnesota with his wife Kelly.


Q (Will Steger Foundation): You've been exploring the Arctic since the 1980's. Have you seen any changes in the environment in the time that you've been traveling?
A (Lonnie Dupre): I have seen it rain during winter 1998 in the high Arctic coating the surrounding tundra in a sheet of ice making it impossible for the rare Peary Caribou and muskox to forage for food. 70% of the caribou herd perished. Also between 1982 and 2000 two massive glaciers on Greenland’s east coast vanished leaving dry valleys.

Q (WSF): Have the changes affected your ability to travel on the Arctic Ocean?
A (LD): Every year there is less and less multi-year ice (9 to 15 feet thick). In 2006 we crossed lots of ice only 2 feet thick. We also noticed a great number of seals on our way to the pole as well as a Polar Bear at the North Pole. Because the southern Arctic is losing more and more ice during summer these marine mammals are forced further north.

Q (WSF): What impacts or what effects would you imagine a trend that continued in this direction would have on polar exploration?
A (LD): We explorers, like the Polar Bears, will go extinct.

Q (WSF): What concerns you most about warming in the Arctic?
A (LD): The Arctic ice is like a big thermostat for not just the northern hemisphere but for the whole globe. If we lose this ice…we think our summers are warm now... Arctic marine mammals will go extinct and the Inuit people will no longer have their traditional culture.

Q (WSF): What influence or effect do you hope your expeditions will have?
A (LD): To get the word out to the masses not just about the impacts of global warming but also about solutions and the need to act now. We could lose the Arctic ice in the summer as early as 5 years from now.

Q (WSF): Are there lessons or inspirations individuals and communities can take from your experiences?
A (LD): You don’t have to be a polar explorer to stop global warming.

Thursday, 06 March 2008 12:34

Börge Ousland - Explorers (Modern)


In February 2006 National Geographic Adventure Magazine called Norwegian Börge Ousland "arguably the most accomplished polar explorer alive!" How did Börge become such a well-known explorer?

After high school, Börge trained as a diver and worked for almost ten years diving in the North Sea. He then served in the Norwegian Special Naval Forces.
In 1986 Börge and two of his diving friends skied across Greenland from the East to West, a feat only a few had accomplished in the almost 100 years since early explorer Fritjof Nansen made the first crossing in 1888.

Over the following years, Börge conducted many expeditions. He and another companion skied over the frozen Arctic Ocean from Ellesmere Island to the North Pole in 1990 without receiving any outside assistance. In 1993 he and a friend tried to ski across the drift ice from Frans Josef Land (Russian territory) to Svalbard (islands in the Arctic Ocean about midway between Norway and the North Pole), but were forced to quit when large areas of open water blocked their path. In 1994 Börge trekked solo from Siberia to the North Pole, then crossed Antarctica alone without outside support in 1997. In 2001 he crossed the Arctic Ocean solo from Siberia to Canada via the North Pole. He has also climbed in the Himalaya and crossed the Patagonia ice field. In 2006, Börge and a partner skied to the North Pole in the winter, an expedition long considered impossible. In 2007 he and a partner retraced the historic route of explorer Fridtjof Nansen. At the end of this expedition, they were forced to live off the land for three weeks as they waited for a boat to be able to reach them.



Q (Will Steger Foundation): You’ve been exploring the Arctic since the 1980's. Have you seen any changes in the environment in the time that you’ve been traveling?
A (Börge Ousland): Yes I have seen the changes over the years. In 1986, we skied across Greenland and across the sea ice to Umanak, which we reached on the 1st of May. Now, it is impossible to ski because it is all open water around Umanak at that time of year. In 1990, we skied unsupported to the North Pole. Back then, the ice was 3 meters thick. Last year I skied from the North Pole to Frans Josef Land and measured ice thickness for the Norwegian Polar Institute on the way. The ice was only 2 meters thick - a 30% reduction over the last two decades.

Q (WSF): Have the changes affected your ability to travel on the Arctic Ocean?
A (BO): Not really. I adapt, using swim gear and polypropylene kayaks to move fast across unstable ice. The ice breaks up more quickly, making traveling in summer months more dangerous.

Q (WSF): What impacts or what effects would you imagine a trend that continued in this direction would have on polar exploration?
A (BO): If sea ice disappears in the summer months, I am not too worried about polar exploration. That’s a minor issue compared to other more serious impacts. I am much more worried about the animals that live there. It has taken the polar bear thousands of years to become what it is; they can be extinct in one hundred years if this continues. Humans adapt, but polar bears do not have that opportunity. The drift ice is the engine for the whole food chain in the Arctic. If that ice disappears, it will have huge consequences for all animal life there.

Q (WSF): What concerns you most about warming in the Arctic
A (BO): See above, along with the melting of large ice caps, which will cause the sea to rise, and the local people who also depend on the food chain of the Arctic.

Q (WSF): What influence or effect do you hope your expeditions will have?
A BO): My role as the eyewitness is not only to tell the world that changes happen in the Arctic very quickly, but also that I believe we can reduce the damage if we are responsible and act now.

Q (WSF): Are there lessons or inspirations individuals and communities can take from your experiences?
A (BO): When I do my expedition, I solve problems. If there is a solution to a problem, I deal with it. It’s the same with global warming: we know the problem, we know the solution and there is only one thing to do. When the future comes and we look back, each of us needs to say that at least I did my best to solve that problem. I look upon it as a personal responsibility, and that’s really my main message.

Thursday, 06 March 2008 12:28

More Resources - Explorers (Modern)

willmap.jpgModern Explorers - More Resources

Photograher James Balog explores the Arctic and other places where he can “catch global warming in the act” with his innovative time-lapse photography. See one of the largest glacier calvings ever documented in High Definition video as well as other scenes here.

National Geographic explorer Jon Bowermaster just completed his Oceans 8 project where he kayaked in the world’s eight oceans. Oceans 8’s final and most recent kayak expedition was to the remnants of Antarctica’s Larsen Ice Shelf, which Will Steger crossed by dogteam in 1990 and which collapsed in 2002. Read the dispatches, see photos, and watch videos here.

Minnesota natives Lonnie Dupre and Eric Larsen completed the first summer ski expedition to the North Pole, dragging their gear in canoes behind them and using the canoes to paddle across leads of open water. The goal of the GreenPeace-sponsored expedition, Project Thin Ice, is to draw attention to the plight of the polar bear and inspire action to slow global warming.

Mountaineer Alton C. Byers, Director of the Alpine Conservation Partnership, spent 30 days in 2007 in the Mt. Everest region recreating 1950s-era photographs of Swiss glaciologists and mapmakers. The comparison between the two sets of photos makes what is arguably the best long-term photographic documentation of how climate change is affecting the world’s tallest, most famous mountain.

Thursday, 06 March 2008 12:27

Action! - Explorers (Modern)

willmap.jpgModern Explorers - Action!

Explorers connect with the natural world in a personal way that makes them care about protecting it. Their experiences in nature can also provide an eyewitness to the public about changes that might otherwise go unnoticed.

You don’t need to go to a far-away place like the Arctic to be an explorer. You can explore natural areas around your home. If you’d like to connect with other people who share your love of exploration, find a local outing club. Here is a directory. You can share with the members of your outing club your concerns about climate change. As a group you can brainstorm projects and actions to work collectively to slow climate change.

There are several national groups that organize outdoor excursions and also work on conservation. Find your local chapter here:


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