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Daily Journals

September 13, 2006

Around midnight last night the mooring crew made their final mooring recovery. After collecting data from all the sensors, most of the team members went to sleep for a few hours. I caught up with the team around 07:00 and watched as they reassembled and deployed the mooring. Because the deployment took longer than expected, I had time to enjoy the birds that circled the ship. In the morning light, I was able to get a really good look at the bizarre details of the Fulmars' tubenoses. (Read my August 22 journal entry to learn more about these interesting birds.)

We saw a fishing vessel today — our first sign of human life, other than Tara, in over 20 days. It will be strange to be back in the "real world" surrounded by people, cars and buildings. Things are really winding down and announcements have gone out that this is the final day for laundry and e-mails. Although this will be my final e-mail from the ship, I hope to post one more journal from either Kirkenes or Oslo.

In between packing and doing last-minute laundry, the teachers organized a panel discussion on global warming. Seven scientists from five countries were invited to serve as panelists for the discussion. Each panelist was given the same four questions to be answered in a designated time period. The resulting discussion was enlightening and, at times, somewhat depressing.

One of the discussion topics was Arctic sea ice. There has been a documented 40% reduction in ice thickness over the last 30 years. Some models suggest that some time in the next 50 years there will be no Arctic sea ice in summer. Martin Doble, an ice researcher, called going from 60 million square kilometers of surface sea ice in summer to zero in the foreseeable future quite shocking. The earth may look very different in the near future in terms of patterns of precipitation and agriculture. How will societies adapt to these potential changes? No one knows.

On the topic of global warming, the panelists agreed that it is a real phenomenon. While most of the scientists believe that human-induced factors, such as increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, are the primary causes of the warming trend, some scientists feel that the cause of global warming is not as clear. Regardless of what is causing global warming, the change is occurring and it will certainly have far-reaching effects. Some possible scenarios include a shift in patterns of precipitation and an increase in extreme weather events such as hurricanes, severe drought or heat waves.

Given our current level of data, it is difficult for scientists to assess the role of human impacts on the decrease of Arctic ice thickness and on global warming. But, as Peter Minnett, a climate researcher, stated, whether these changes are human-induced or natural may not matter. The fact is change is happening and sooner or later people will wake up to the fact that these changes might not necessarily be good changes. Martin Doble summed it up by saying, "We're doing an experiment on the climate to see whether pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is going to really mess things up. The problem is we haven't got a control, so if we mess up this earth we can’t go back to the old one. On that basis we have to try to have the minimum impact on the planet.”

So what can we do? People are beginning to talk about reducing our individual "carbon footprint,” the cost to the environment of our daily living. Peter Minnett suggests we start by living in energy-efficient housing, driving energy-efficient cars and using energy-efficient mass transit. Even simple steps such as using compact fluorescent light bulbs can help reduce your carbon footprint.

The complexities of natural systems often make determining quick solutions difficult, a fact that understandably frustrates policy makers. However, the Earth's environment needs thoughtful public policy to help it withstand and perhaps recover from the coming changes. Right now it seems like most governments pay relatively little attention to the concerns of scientists, but Peter stated an important truth, "the real people with power are in this room — the teachers. The power is yours, and it is a matter of education."

I agree with Peter and believe that education is a key solution to many of the environmental problems facing the Arctic and the world. The educators who participated in this cruise have gained valuable knowledge and experiences that will help them interpret the findings of scientists and share the importance of polar research with their students, colleagues, the public and the policy makers.

The trip is winding down, but I feel our work is just beginning.

—Mike Dunn


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Kapitan Dranitsyn