Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

We Always Knew Our Scientists Were Rock Stars…

And now so does the rest of the world, thanks to the September 30 article, “On Thin Ice,” in Rolling Stone Magazine. Written by award-winning journalist Ben Wallace-Wells, the piece describes what scientists believe is happening to the world’s ice sheets. 

Perito Moreno glacier at Los Glaciares National park in Santa Cruz, Argentina. A recent article in Rolling Stone discusses ice and climate research at both poles. Photo: Goldman/AFP/Getty

Wallace-Wells begins with a clear and simple explanation of the ice sheets: 

“Most of the ice in the world is contained in two great, ancient ice sheets, each of them the size of a continent: One covers Antarctica and the South Pole, and the other, not nearly as big, covers Greenland. Both of these formations slope gently from high interiors down to the coast, with ice edging outward in vast frozen rivers known as glaciers. Snowfall at the top of the slopes presses down on the glaciers, helping gravity propel them toward the edges of the continent. There, when it meets the warmer water, some of the ice melts slowly into the ocean. Until a few years ago, scientists like [Gordon] Hamilton thought of the ice sheets as changing only imperceptibly, on the time scale of centuries. But as the planet has warmed, they have come to see the ice as far more volatile and nimble. The ice sheets no longer seem static; they are mysterious, complicated dams that help hold back entire continents, keeping coastal cities free from flood. If you understand the ice sheets, and how they might melt, you can understand the future of the oceans — how much they might swell, and on what schedule. And if you understand the oceans, you might be able to get a more accurate fix on the future of the world’s coasts, and of the civilizations they hold.” 

Later in the article, he outlines the consequences of melting ice sheets: 

“The new science indicates that by the end of the century, rising seas could turn as many as 153 million people into refugees. Most of New Orleans, and large swaths of Miami and Tampa, are likely to be underwater, along with some of the world’s largest cities: Manila, Lagos, Alexandria. A full quarter of the developing world’s coasts will be battered by more frequent hurricanes and tsunamis; roughly half of Bangladesh, a country of 160 million people, will be subject to regular flooding.” 

The article features renowned climate scientists and glaciologists such as David Holland, Gordon Hamilton, Joel Harper, Bob Bindschadler, Richard Alley, Pedro Skvarca, Bob Thomas, Terry Hughes, and others. 

We loved this article. Not only did it highlight the brave and important work Polar Field Services helps support, it introduced the complex science behind glaciology, climatology, melting ice sheets, and sea level rise in a clear, cohesive way.  And it did it in a major national magazine with millions of readers. 

We humbly try to achieve that same communication goal here, if on a much smaller scale, and with a self-selective audience. So please, if you want to help your friends, colleagues, family, and others better understand polar research, send them this link and tell them about this article.

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