I was recently in Poland reconnecting with my Trans-Antarctica Expedition—a historic, 20-year reunion and the first time we had all gathered together in one place since 1990. It seems a lot has changed for the planet, and more specifically for Antarctica, as a result of global warming since we last traversed the continent.
According to a recent report by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, temperatures in Antarctica are expected to increase by 5.3 degrees Fahrenheit this century, and the melting of much of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could contribute to a global sea level rise of 4.5 feet by 2100.
The 400-page study, conducted by 100 scientists from eight countries as part of the International Polar Year, is the most comprehensive to date on the impact of global warming on the world’s coldest continent.
It concludes that the rapid warming of the Antarctic Peninsula has led to a decline in sea ice, a significant drop in krill populations dependent on the sea ice, an increase in rain, and the growth of plant communities on ground exposed by retreating glaciers. The report also states that the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, the largest ocean current on Earth, has warmed faster than the global ocean, and that as the water continues to warm, alien marine species may migrate into the region.
For me, the Antarctica expedition reunion was also a reminder of why I am personally committed to the preservation of Antarctica, to our planet, and to education in order to safeguard places like Antarctica from catastrophic change.
I am honored and excited to head to Copenhagen for the United Nations climate negotiations, and to join my next expedition team, young leaders ages 20 to 26 from across the Midwestern United States. While they are not the typical pedigree of my past team members—renowned kite skiers, polar historians, dog mushers, and photographers—they have the strongest pedigree when it comes to climate policy, youth climate leadership, and a commitment to helping the U.S. and the international community lead the transition to a clean energy economy.
Expedition Copenhagen seeks to bring a U.S. youth voice to the complex climate policy discussions and to empower climate action through local collaboration and international partnership. You can follow our progress live from Copenhagen on the expedition’s blog through December 19th.
Polar explorer, educator, author, speaker, and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence emeritus Will Steger led the first confirmed dogsled journey to the North Pole (without resupply) in 1986, the first south-north dogsled traverse of Greenland in 1988, and the first dogsled traverse of Antarctica in 1989-1990. The Will Steger Foundation, located in Minneapolis, MN, is dedicated to creating programs that foster international leadership and cooperation through environmental education and policy.