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  • Writer's pictureCristina Mittermeier

Set Adrift

Our Ancient Guardians and the Message They Carry


For as long as there has been life on this planet, there has been ice. For eons, life on our planet has coexisted with the enduring presence of ice, shaping landscapes and the human experience alike. The cold, often perceived as a formidable force, reveals itself as a great teacher of resilience and adaptability. In the midst of icy challenges, there is a remarkable beauty in nature's unfolding story, indifferent to man's discomfort with it. Whenever our planet has found itself amid an icy challenge, the remarkable powers of nature have also told a story of fierce beauty, indifferent to man's discomfort with it.


I find the icy poles of planet Earth to be both harsh and alluring, and I have had the privilege to dive beneath the surface of the ice a handful of times. It is challenging to endure the stinging chill of below-freezing water while trying to capture fleeting moments as the world closes in around me and the cold paralyzes my very being.

We are fundamentally not built for the cold; It is a reminder of our vulnerability, particularly for someone like me, raised in the city of eternal spring.

And yet, without the freezing temperatures at the poles of our planet, we will collectively suffer something much worse than simply succumbing to the cold.

Yet, this very challenge, inherent in our existence, pales in comparison to the potential consequences of losing the majestic guardians at the poles of our planet—the icebergs.


In the pastel shimmer of dusk, the world seemed perfectly still. But I knew deep beneath these icy giants was a symphony of frozen crystals forming and shattering; the silent call of the polar South.

 

In his 1938 Memoir “Alone,” Richard Byrd, an antarctic research scientist, describes perishing to the cold as “a lush numbness, and a peace that lulls the mind,” a desensitization that makes “dying seem easy.” As humans, however, we hold a single-minded determination to keep ourselves alive.



It is a simple concept when we are confronted with any challenge. When we are cold, we can build a fire; when we are hungry, we can find something to eat. The indigenous cultures of the north, who for thousands of years have learned to live in the extreme conditions of the Arctic and the scientists and explorers who work in fierce weather in Antarctica remind us that life in the polar regions can be as magnificent as it is brutal.

Despite our innate motivation towards self-preservation, we as a species seem resigned to our own condemnation. Standing idly by as our most ancient protectors shrink into the sea. Defeated guardians of the poles consigned only to memory.

I have witnessed the crumbling monoliths of ice breaking apart from their timeless perches and crashing into the sea, curtains of ancient liquid cascading into the ocean like a cup filled with so much water. Yet, the collapse of polar ice caps carries consequences that extend far beyond mere spectacle.


 


The role of icebergs in this narrative is pivotal. These floating giants, born from the detachment of glaciers, serve as ambassadors of change. They are not just frozen sculptures drifting in the ocean; they are messengers carrying stories of a planet in flux.





Antarctica can feel like this distant, wild realm far beyond our reach. In truth, every one of us depends on the healthy cycles of sea ice to fuel our ocean’s currents and stabilize our global climate.

As we witness the grandeur of icebergs breaking free, it is an urgent call to action. The collapse of the polar ice caps will result in more unpredictable weather and rising sea levels, but these are abstract concepts to many people; the weather is always changing, and the tide always eventually goes back out to sea, right?


While the effects of climate change may appear distant or intangible, the interconnectedness of our global systems becomes increasingly apparent. The vulnerabilities within our societal structures are laid bare as we grapple with the inhumanity of those who profit from environmental neglect.

It's not just about coastal cities drowning or the fury of hurricanes; it's about recognizing and addressing the deeper vulnerabilities that persist - a set of dominoes poised to topple.

As a scientist, I don’t see “record-breaking heat” or “unprecedented cold” as freak incidents but as the beginning of a disturbing trend. Summers set to intensify in heat, winters to sharpen in coldness, and the foundational elements of our society stand inadequately equipped for the impending challenges of a changing climate.


Let us not allow these messengers of change to have their warnings fall on deaf ears.

In the face of a changing climate, remember that the story unfolding is not predetermined. It's an invitation for collective action, a call to build a society that prioritizes inclusivity, and harmonious coexistence with our planet. The beauty and resilience of these frozen wonders can serve as beacons guiding us toward a sustainable and balanced future.

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