A thirst for ice.

I have to write out my motivations and feelings about it sooner or later, so why not here?

Why do I want to spend my summer in Norway? Why do I want to spend my summer in Svalbard, Norway aka the Arctic Circle? It’s weird to me that I’d even have to answer that question to anyone. Like, it seems insane to me that someone wouldn’t want to go to Svalbard and hang out on glaciers. I have to remember that most people around me dislike cold, that they hate winter, and that they really do not understand why a person would want to be immersed in it for extended periods of time.

First and foremost, I love winter. I always have, and I probably always will. I tend to be much more comfortable in the cold. I find the world a much nicer looking place when blanketed by newly fallen snow. It’s a time of year where everything is just different. I don’t have a great reason for why I love it so much, I guess. I just do.

Why do I want to go Svalbard though? Why do I want to go to the top of the world and study the effects of the Earth’s changing climate on glaciers?

When I finished my associates degree at Sauk, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was at the point in my education where I needed a direction to continue and I had no direction. I stopped going to school, I laid around and did nothing for a long time when I couldn’t find a job. I read books and played video games and whatever, but still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

I couldn’t tell you exactly when, but at some point during this time period, I picked up a book called ‘The Weather Makers‘ by Tim Flannery. I’ve always been a man that is interested in science, my interest was very casual. I wasn’t good at math, so I never pursued it, figuring that I wouldn’t be able to hack it. This was a point in my life where my arrogance was at it’s highest. I really enjoyed arguing on the internet at this point, and one thing I knew FOR SURE was that anthropogenic global warming was BULLSHIT. It was some stupid conspiracy cooked up by crazy people and if you thought otherwise, you were an idiot. Plain and simple. I was a climate change contrarian.

I really wish I could remember what put doubt into me, but at some point the thought occurred to me that I could be wrong. I must’ve heard a very compelling argument on a podcast or listened to/watched a lecture by a well spoken scientist. I don’t know, but I felt like I had to do the due diligence and actually learn as much as I could about the issue. So I picked up this book and I read it cover to cover. I was blown away.

I had been a giant, arrogant, ignorant jackass.

This is not a revelation to a lot of people who know me, but it certainly was to me. What is important about this however, is that this book resonated with me so strongly that I very suddenly felt like I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to study climate change. I wanted to go back to school and fight through all of the things that I considered too difficult to deal with and become a person on the front lines of climate science. I wanted to be a scientist. I suddenly felt like this was the biggest issue humanity faced and I felt like I needed to be in the discussion.

So, the real reason I came back to school was to study climate change. That is the reason that I am where I am. I may not be so sure that’s what I wish to spend my life on NOW, but it is the single reason I am here. Last year, I became aware of the Svalbard Research Experience for Undergraduates and felt like that’s where I needed to be. At the time I did not meet the requirements to be an applicant, but this year I do.

Knowing what I wanted to do when I started school, I was fortunate that my first geology teacher was an arctic scientist who has spent a lot of time on glaciers and at high altitudes. He was very accommodating to my nagging questions about glaciers, climate and whatever else. I learned a ton, and kept learning, on my own and whatever bits of information I could gleam off of lectures about disparate topics and pull them into what I wanted to know.

When he learned that I was interested in going to Svalbard, there was no doubt in his encouragement. His enthusiasm made me more enthusiastic.

So what do I want to do in Svalbard? I want to study the affects of climate change on glaciers in extreme polar environments. Places like Svalbard are the most vulnerable to climate change. I am really interested in paleoclimatology, but the setup for the Svalbard REU isn’t really equipped for that, so there, I would be most interested in studying the melting and retreat of the glaciers there.

I think it would be very interesting to look at the sediment deposition history of the meltwater streams coming from the glaciers. Using that information you could determine rates of flow over time  and compare those rates to external factories and look for correlation. Does the general trend of the rate of melt mesh with our current understanding of the warming climate? If not, why? Alternatively, I would like to work on the actual glaciers themselves, studying many of the same things.

It is also a bit of selfishness. I think glaciers are amazing and beautiful places, and I really want to see one. I want to stand on one and explore. If we are to believe current science, these things won’t always be around in my lifetime, and I want to be sure that I am on one before I die.

Even though my professional goals may have changed focus as I’ve spent my time learning about geology, I feel like I need to do this to fulfill the yearning that got me here in the first place. I have no doubt that I will be able to put my name on pieces of research in the future, but my interest in climate science has never faded, and I still want to be a part of that discussion.

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  1. How I got here… « Continental Riff

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