On the Front Lines of Arctic Climate Change: Maureen Raymo at the North Pole Summit

March 10, 2017

Long before climate change was one of the major social and political issues of our time, Maureen Raymo was already deeply involved. Her lifelong ambition to become an oceanographer took her to Brown University in the 1970s, where she had the opportunity to work in the marine geology lab with a noted paleoclimatologist. She fell in love with the field and has been a passionate expert and advocate ever since.

Climate change expert Maureen Raymo.

Photo Courtesy: Maureen Raymo

I was thrilled to learn that Maureen is speaking at this summer’s North Pole Summit, a special sailing of Quark’s North Pole: The Ultimate Arctic Adventure expedition. As such, she’ll join a select group of passengers and 6 other international polar thought leaders on board 50 Years of Victory, the world’s most powerful nuclear icebreaker, for an epic 14-day exploration of environmental challenges and the human elements shaping our understanding of them. 

We had the opportunity to speak with Maureen recently, to see what she has planned for North Pole Summit attendees.

Looking to the Past to Understand the Future of Arctic Climate Change

As a paleoclimatologist, Maureen looks to the past to help us better understand our present and future.

Maureen spends a great deal of time doing field work in an effort to gather and make sense of the data required to answer these questions, sometimes spending months at a time at sea. She’s also done research on the Tibet plateau, in Greenland and Finland, and in Northern Canada on Baffin Island, among other places. Just before we got together to talk about the North Pole Summit, Maureen had spent a week in the Bahamas studying fossil coral reefs from the last interglacial warming period, in an effort to decipher how high the sea level might have been at that time.

Ilulissat, Greenland offers spectacular Arctic landscapes for visitors and photographers.

Ilulissat, Greenland

“I can interrogate deep sea sediments and records of fossil coral reefs, using all kinds of creative methods people have come up with, to learn the answers to these questions from our past. This is why my talks are usually subtitled, ‘Past is Prologue.’ My job is to look to the past, to help understand our present and future.”

How Arctic Expeditions Further Our Understanding of Arctic Climate Change

Most people just don’t have the opportunity to hear first-hand about climate change, to understand the key data that has led to a global scientific consensus about what’s going on. Add climate change deniers to the mix, and the topic can become incredibly confusing for the average person to get a handle on.

Spending 14 days on an authentic icebreaker with Maureen and other Arctic climate change experts, educators and explorers during the North Pole Summit, will give passengers the opportunity not only to attend lectures with these influencers, but to actually explore the affected region alongside them.

It’s important to Maureen that people understand the science of global warming, she said, adding, “I love sharing my knowledge with inquiring minds; with people who really appreciate nature and understand the important role that science plays in making our world tick.”

An iceberg in stark contrast to the warm sky in Baffin Bay.

Baffin Bay- Photo courtesy: Jeet Kalsi

“One thing that’s wonderful about science and people getting together for an Arctic expedition is that you make connections with people that you’d never make in just your everyday life,” Maureen said. “You’re there with a common purpose, living together on a ship or in a camp. In every single experience like that, I’ve come away with incredible new relationships, friendships and collaborations that have often lead to more interesting science and discovery.”

In sharing her extensive knowledge and unique perspective, Maureen hopes to inspire and empower North Pole Summit participants. “I can’t wait for this opportunity to talk with them in such a focused way about what I consider one of the single greatest challenges facing mankind right now.”

“We’re going to the front lines of Arctic climate change.”

Which areas and regions are most severely impacting by climate change?

“The Arctic sea ice is going to be the first area we’ll see the truly dramatic impact of climate change,” Maureen warns. “Right now, year-round, it’s mostly white sea ice that reflects the huge amount of incoming solar radiation. As the sea ice decreases, especially in summer and fall, that white reflective surface is being replaced by a dark, absorbent ocean, taking in that heat and creating a positive feedback.”

Every year, she explained, the thickness of the ice decreases and becomes more vulnerable the next summer, as that strong positive feedback continues decreasing the overall reflectivity of the Northern Hemisphere at high latitudes. This contributes significantly to enhancing the global warming caused by greenhouse gas pollution.

Hauled-out walrus congregate on the ice, as spotted by passengers en route to the North Pole.

Walruses on ice- Photo courtesy: Sam Crimmin

These effects are felt the world over. In the tropical regions, the difference in temperature might be only a fraction of a degree, but the polar regions are incredibly sensitive and susceptible--the temperature in the Arctic could rise ten degrees at the same time.

“Now, we are fundamentally changing the climate we live in.  All of the infrastructure built to deal with a certain climate--buildings, factories, ecosystems--all are now just suddenly displaced because the climate has changed so dramatically. Saying the earth is going to warm by 2 degrees doesn’t mean it’s 2 degrees warmer everywhere… it means it’s a little bit less in the large parts of the earth, and significantly more at high latitudes.”

The Arctic is the most vulnerable region in the world right now and is experiencing the most rapid and greatest warming. The opportunity to see, feel and experience what she’s spent her life studying and researching is a dream come true for Maureen. “We’re going to the front lines of Arctic climate change… it’s such a great thing for me personally, and I’m very excited to share the experience with other like-minded, passionate people.”

Visit the North Pole with Maureen Raymo

“The only way we are going to see true change is if people realize what is needed and demand from Washington change they believe is in all of our long term best interests,” Maureen said.

Will you join her and the rest of the North Pole Summit experts in breaking ice and breaking barriers on the ultimate Arctic expedition this summer? Here’s how to get started:

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