After Antarctic mission’s first season: Making sense of it all

This is the final installment of a series of reports on the 2009/2010 research season in Antarctica by polar scientist Nick Frearson.

The Antarctic ICE Bridge team has completed their first field season of a mission that could span up to seven years. In the forty days spent flying over the changing peninsula of West Antarctica the team has completed an incredible twenty-one missions with total flight distances equaling four trips around the globe. The low altitudes the pilots managed to maneuver with the large DC-8 jet provided some thrills, offering a ‘Star Wars’ effect to the data collection flights as we dropped down close to the ice surface and climbed low over the mountains. This incredible flying has provided sensational looks at the changing face of the West Antarctica peninsula.

It is always bittersweet to reach the end of a field season. While it is good to be going home, and I feel privileged to have seen the amazing sights I have seen, the data that we have collected shows me there is a sobering trend. Things are changing here; with change moving further and further south along the Antarctic coastline in just the years that I have traveled here. What does this all mean? I wish I understood the processes taking place. My hope is that through understandings gained from this work the ICE Bridge scientists can unravel the processes and present them to the world in a way that is meaningful to us all. History tells us we evolved as a species because we were able to adapt to a cooling climate in a previous Ice Age. It would be a pity if our current desire to prevent change in our environment due to our ‘evolved’ political systems stifled our ability to adapt and progress now as we move out of the ‘Fossil Fuel’ age and into the future of our children.

Nick Frearson is a senior engineer at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory specializing in providing and maintaining airborne geophysics installations for use in both the Arctic and Antarctica. Nick has spent several seasons in the field in both the north and south polar regions, most recently as part of the International Polar Year AGAP team that mapped the large mountain range hidden under the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Nick will be working as part of the ICE Bridge project.

Photo – The Southern End of the Antarctic Peninsula

December 17, 2009

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