Global Warming Lessons From the Arctic

Our tiny helicopter swooped out over the wide and sunny Bering Sea, its springtime surface still frozen white. We were east of Nome, Alaska, just south of the Bering Strait, where Russia and America almost touch. After 20 minutes, our pilot found the U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Healy -- first a tiny black speck in the far distance.

When we reached it and circled around before landing on the fantail, we could see that scientists had lowered a ramp from the side and were working out on the ice.

More and more now, science expeditions are heading into the frozen north to study all the exotic life forms swarming in the icy waters before human-induced global warming melts the sea ice completely. Scientists expect that to happen in summer for the first time in tens of thousands -- if not millions -- of years within the next decade.

They're finding the frigid white northern seas are in fact teaming, life forms are crawling just under the frozen sea-surface and in every cubic foot of water all the way down to the sea floor, often more than a mile deep.

When they go out on the ice, the scientists always take a "Bear Guard," a young Coast Guard officer who carries a large rifle in case a hungry polar bear, looking for seals, rambles by.

Studying the Ice

In the belly of Icebreaker Healy, high-tech science labs serve a nonstop rotation of scientists from the U.S., Russia, China, Germany and several other countries, all joining in the scientific knowledge rush trying to discover what life forms have long lived in this remote place before the threat of extinction -- due to the vanishing ice they need to live on -- becomes reality and carries them away forever.

After landing and being assigned bunks in the small rooms shared by the scientists, we explored the labs. We found scientists counting curious looking worms and clams that they'd dredged up from the sea floor.

One room on the Healy serves as the control center for its ROV, or Remotely Operated Vehicle, that carries cameras and traps as it "flies" into the depths, sending back live video pictures of often unknown creatures -- some with scintillating bioluminescence rippling along their veins and looking much like the aliens in the movie "The Abyss" -- just a little smaller.

Teaching From the Arctic

The scientists work day and night, taking full advantage of their precious exploration time, if they've been lucky enough to be granted a berth on the Healy.

Also on board, we found several reporters from different organizations.

The most productive reporter, I soon came to realize, and the one most directly connected to the generation deeply involved with global warming, did not work for a network or a newspaper.

She works for J.C. Parks public elementary school in Indianhead, Md. Deanna Wheeler is a science teacher to the third, fourth and fifth grades.

Wheeler was one of a dozen teachers selected from some 50 applicants in a program run by the National Science Foundation. Her output of information from the Healy eclipsed the output of all us professional journalists.

I found her sitting up on the ship's wide bridge in a seat with a spectacular view looking out over the bright frozen sea. With a laptop on her knees, she was working on the Web site, complete with video blogs and Webinars, that she was constantly sending back to her students at home.

"This is the best place to do it," she told me. "The view's breathtaking."

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