Rambler's Top100





6
MAN AND NATURE
Text 1
Global Warming
Polar bears could face extinction, whales go hungry, and seals have no-
where to rest all because of the warming.
On a frigid afternoon in May, I slipped through a crack in the sea ice and
dropped into the Arctic Ocean. The icy water hit my face and neoprene-clad
head. I was diving just south of Lancaster Sound, off the northern tip of Baf-
fin Island in the Canadian Arctic. The water was 29 degrees (-C), about as
cold as sea water gets before it freezes. My breath slowed and I swam down
into the blackness. At one point I looked back up at the ice, expecting it to
appear as it most often does this early in the season blue, featureless, life-
less. But something wasn't right.
The ice was stained green and brown. It moved. I blinked and checked
my depth. I tried to make sure I wasn't suffering vertigo, which can be deadly
to a diver working alone under the three-foot-thick (one meter) roof of ice.
Then it hit me: It wasn't ice at all I was watching a massive cloud of am-
phipods, tiny shrimp like crustaceans, as they fed on phytoplankton that grow
on the underside of the ice in spring when the sun returns to the Arctic. I was
seeing the foundation of the ecosystem, the combination of ice and minute
life-forms upon which all the bigger animals polar bears, whales, birds, and
seals depend.
I've lived in the Canadian Arctic all my life and have spent most of my
career photographing the edge where ice meets open sea. When I began
working, sea ice seemed invulnerable: Even in the warmest months much ice
remained. Ice is not just a landscape. It is part of the biology of every creature
that lives in this frozen vastness. Year-round, but especially in spring, polar
bears roam and hunt on the ice. Seals rest and give birth on the ice. Massive
bowhead whales arrive to feed on amphipods and copepods. Beluga whales
and narwhals join them and chase arctic cod, which hide in finger-thin chan-
nels of ice. An Arctic without ice is unimaginable.
Scarcely ten years later, things have changed. The Poles are melting at an
alarming rate; as global warming grinds on, the possibility of an ice-free Arctic,
at least during the summer, creeps closer each day. Some scientists even believe
the Arctic will be void of summer ice, dooming species such as polar bears to
extinction in less than a century. This is one of the most disturbing predictions
I've heard. One thing I understood with sudden clarity that May day as I watched
amphipods flit along the ice and heard the clicks and squeaks of approaching
whales: If global temperatures continue rising, the ice will likely disappear. An
Arctic without ice would be like a garden without soil.