Karen Romano Young

From the desk: Doodlebug: My Novel in Doodles and Humanimal Doodles, a science comic in print and on the web.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Coolest Place I've Ever Worked

Perfect timing: Robin Pulver and Rafe Martin both "shared" Paul Nicklen's amazing Ted Talk on their Facebook pages. In it, photographer Paul Nicklen describes his life growing up in the Arctic, and puts on an astonishing show of his work.

If you've been to the Arctic, the dramatic changes in the sea ice become an immediate and passionate concern, and Nicklen's Ted Talk shows why.

I can hardly believe that it's been a whole year since I set sail about the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, traveling with a group of scientists who were studying climate change. On June 15, 2010, we left Dutch Harbor, on the island of Unalaska in the Aleutians, and steamed north through the Bering Strait into the Chukchi Sea, crossing into the Arctic Circle. That makes me an honorary polar bear, according to sailors -- but, because I left the ship before the initiation ceremony, I don't have my special red hat.

For two weeks, I was part of this cruise, called ICESCAPE, trailing around behind the scientists as they researched at scores of stations in the open water and a dozen or so on the ice. The Healy is an icebreaker, using its weight and a combination of backing and ramming to make its way through the ice.

Yes, there was ice -- even at the summer solstice. But there was less ice than before, and many signs that the ecosystem that relied on ice was suffering. Tales were shared of walrus and polar bears marooned at sea or on dry land. And, as I tried to process what I was learning, I found myself drawing -- which often happens when I'm struggling emotionally. The result was the first of my Humanimal Doodles, the Walrus Doodle, which I'll reproduce here.

Don Perovich, one of the scientists studying the ice, gave us a visual of the ice situation by comparing the sea ice in 198o to the square footage of the continental 48 United States. Before our cruise last year, the reduced ice coverage in the Arctic amounted to everything east of the Mississippi, plus a lot more. As ice melts, the situation literally snowballs: since water absorbs heat, more open ocean means even more melting ice, and more open ocean... Paul Nicklen reports that the sea ice could break down completely within ten years. Climate change, already well-established, will continue.

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