Scientists prophesied that one of the first signs of human-caused
climate change would be the collapse of the Antarctic
Peninsula’s ice sheets. This is exactly what is happening.
IF THE SURFACE of the Earth is a single, complex system,
then Antarctica is its heart, the slowly beating pump that
drives the whole world.
Each austral winter, a 7-million-square-mile halo of sea ice forms around the continent,
and each spring trillions of tons of fresh water are released
into the ocean as it thaws. This is the planet’s great annual
climate cycle, the thermodynamic engine that drives the
circulation of ocean currents, redistributing the sun’s heat,
regulating climate, forcing the upwelling of deep ocean
nutrients, setting the tempo of the planet’s weather.
The Antarctic affects all our lives, but through forces so deep
and elemental that we’re not even aware of them.
Conversely, here is where global change is most clearly
seen. The effects of ozone depletion and global warming
are strongest in polar regions. Because Antarctica is
essentially uninhabited and without industry, there is
virtually no local pollution; any
ecological and climate disturbances
on the continent are certainly caused
by global forces. The continent is un-owned, and by
international treaty it has been set aside for the pursuit of
scientific discovery; from outposts spread across the frozen
continent, scientists from around the world monitor
Antarctica’s climate, ice and animals, assembling a picture
of a planet in flux.
Global warming models from the early 1970s predicted
that climactic effects of human greenhouse gas emissions
would be felt first and most strongly at the poles.
The 2008 LARSEN ICE SHELF EXPEDITION
will provide a unique look at how the seventh continent is
changing and evolving and dramatically influencing the
world’s oceans. Using sea kayaks and climbing gear we will
explore the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula, the
Weddell Sea side, little-seen by scientists and explorers,
thanks to being more exposed to big seas and fast-changing
The expedition offers both a perfect capping to my
10-year-long Oceans 8 Project (sea kayaking around the
world one continent at a time, studying both the health of
the seas and the lives of people who depend on them) as
well as a unique combination of adventure and
In March 2002 scientists watched the Antarctic’s 500-
billion-ton Larsen-B ice shelf shatter into thousands of tiny
icebergs, before their eyes. Its break-up was an early-warning
sign; the peninsular ice shelves are considered among the
first indicators of global warming.
What happened so dramatically to the Larsen Ice Shelf suggests the rest of the
Peninsula’s ice may one day calve off or deteriorate. No one
knows how quickly that will happen. “Best guess”
projections are that the melting on the Peninsula will raise
the world’s sea levels by 20 inches to 3.5 feet in the next
century. All this warming and shifting is also having clear and
extremely troubling impact on life around its shores.
We intend to get as close as we can to what remains of
the Larsen Ice Shelf, to document how it is today. Including
my friend, polar explorer Will Steger on the team is key
since his traverse of the Peninsula by dogsled in 1989 gives
him a singular expertise. His www.globalwarming101.com
will play an integral role when we are down south.
Spurred by warming coastal air and waters, many of
Antarctica’s glaciers and ice shelves have accelerated their
melting, suggesting that ocean levels might be irreversibly
on the rise for centuries to come. The potential rise in seas in
this century already constitutes a slow-motion catastrophe
for places like Bangladesh, New Orleans, and low-lying island
nations. But the findings add weight to the idea that rising
seas could be a fact of life for centuries to come, requiring
serious reassessment of the human penchant for living along
coasts. Many of the clues to that evolution lie in Antarctica’s