Jan
24
2010

Climate Change Detective and Arctic Explorer: Will Steger

Like imaginary detectives Carmen San Diego and Inspector Gadget, Will Steger travels the Earth in search of clues that point towards a changing climate.
Not many of us imagine spending our vacation in some of the coldest and most remote regions of the world, but Arctic explorer Will Steger has spent the last 45 years doing just that. Using his passion for extreme exploring and background in science and education, Steger’s chilly trips to Greenland, Antarctica, and the North Pole have taken him into the middle of the global climate change debate.
Will Steger, Climate Change Detective and Arctic ExplorerCourtesy Will Steger
The Earth’s icy poles are among the first and most dramatically affected areas of global climate change (see "What's the big deal about polar climate change?" below). Few humans have set foot in these important ecological systems and witnessed the changing landscapes as Steger has. Small wonder when you consider what makes his explorations “extreme.” Can you imagine waking up to -38°F temperatures in a tent buried under last night’s snowfall only to have trouble starting your camp stove because of the low-oxygen level? After you warm up enough to tunnel yourself out of your igloo, you still have to pack up your gear, wake up the dogsled team, and travel miles over huge snowdrifts. That's intense!
“What’s the big deal about polar climate change?"
Albedo: Land and Ocean vs. Ice SurfacesCourtesy The M Factory, Inc.
Ice acts like a mirror by reflecting sunlight. On the other hand, ocean and land surfaces act like sponges by absorbing sunlight. Surfaces that reflect sunlight, like ice, stay cool, but surfaces that absorb sunlight, like ocean and land surfaces, get warm. How much a surface reflects or absorbs sunlight is called its “albedo.”
The Earth’s icy poles are among the first and most dramatically affected areas of global climate change because rising temperatures melt ice and expose land and ocean surfaces. Can you guess what happens next? Remember that land and ocean surfaces absorb sunlight and get warm. This means that these newly exposed surfaces further absorb sunlight, get warmer, and melt more ice. This process is an example of what scientists call “positive feedback systems,” which is a fancy way of saying, “once the process starts, it creates more and more of the same results.”
Finally, want a chance to see and hear Will Steger, climate change detective and Arctic explorer, in person? You're in luck! On February 24th from noon to 1pm, Steger will be speaking at the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Student Center as part of the Institute on the Environment’s lecture series, Frontiers in the Environment. The event is free and open to the public. For more information please see the lecture series’ homepage.
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Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Very cool (no pun intended) and makes me want to explore more!

posted on Mon, 01/25/2010 - 12:00pm
KelsiDayle's picture
KelsiDayle says:

Update: TIME magazine reported today on (another) Study: Evidence for an Arctic Climate Feedback Loop

Happy exploring!

posted on Fri, 04/30/2010 - 1:13pm

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