The Arctic is warming faster than any other part of the planet.
As the permafrost thaws and the tundra burns, it is releasing powerful greenhouse gases that further accelerate warming.
Since the permafrost holds three times as much carbon as all the world’s forests combined, what’s happening in the Arctic is one of the most important aspects of climate change. It’s also one of the least understood.
For more than a decade, scientists from Woods Hole Research Center have been bringing college students to the remote Arctic to not only learn about Arctic change, but actively participate in climate research.
The experience has changed many students’ careers and lives. And many of those students have changed the course of research by introducing original questions and making unexpected discoveries. It’s called the Polaris Project, and a new book tells its story.
The Big Thaw: Ancient Carbon, Modern Science, and a Race to Save the World features the photography of Chris Linder.
In the photos, we see methane bubbles coming up through a lake; trees falling over when the ground beneath them has collapsed; layers of the ground with big wedges of ice through them, and tiny, delicate flowers.
“A lot of times I'm on my hands and knees, in the mud, in the dirt, looking at the really small parts of the landscape that you could just walk right by,” Linder told Living Lab Radio.
“You have these beautiful flowers that are only inches high. And if you're looking at them from a distance, all you see is these muted colors and rolling hills.”
Linder said he wishes everyone could spend time with climate scientists to get to know them better.
“Unfortunately, I feel like lately, in the last decade or two decades, people have lost trust or faith in science and scientific reasoning and the results that are communicated,” he said.
“But if people went in the field…I think that they would change their minds. You have to know these people. You have to go in the field with them to appreciate just how passionate they are about the work that they're doing…and the pressure that's placed on them to find these answers.”
The students are the ones who seem to have the most hope for the future, Linder said.
“Almost universally, the younger students did not seem affected by the climate change malaise or any kind of depression or overwhelming feeling of dread,” he said. “What I got from them was, ‘This is my chance to make a new understanding of this…we are going to drive solutions, we're going to drive understanding.’ And that's really exciting.”