From the Editor

It is poetic justice, it seems, that I should be jotting this note for an issue on polar region research amidst an early winter deep freeze here in New England. And this just 45 years after my callow bid to join the International Geophysical Year, which went on to pioneering polar work without me.

We highlight this month some of the dramatic research that follows on the heels of that “ice-breaking” period of polar studies. Now the research is in pursuit of an understanding that was hardly discussed at that time: global climate change.

The Arctic region is a good place to start in understanding climate change. In our second feature, “Investigating the Paleoclimate of an Arctic Gateway,” Julie Brigham-Grette, Lloyd Keigwin, and Neal Driscoll describe the 2002 ocean drilling and geophysical research cruises into the Bearing Sea and Chukchi Sea, which had previously defied such exploration because of drift ice. The recently commissioned U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy, equipped to be a research vessel, allowed scientists to take drill cores of the seafloor sediments, which are now under intense study. The authors describe how these cores and sediment profiles will drive the paleoclimatic research out of solely regional climatic studies and into the realm of global feedbacks and interhemispherical connections. “The Bering Land Bridge serves at times as a continent and at times as an ocean gateway, producing a geographic bottleneck to the migration of terrestrial and marine biota,” they write.

The ice-free McMurdo Dry Valleys region of Antarctica provides a striking contrast to the Arctic and the rest of the Antarctic, as described by Berry Lyons in “Research in the Coldest Desert.” This area of the perennially frozen lakes is dry, and without sunlight for months at a time. In this extreme environment, a team of scientists working on a National Science Foundation Long-term Ecological Research site are investigating how a polar desert ecosystem functions, particularly how “photosynthetic organisms adapt and survive through the austral winter.” Perhaps only here would an earth scientist find himself the lead investigator of a project focused on ecology and the “synthesis and integration of biological and physical sciences as the biogeosciences,” as Berry Lyons has.

Our final three stories are from our Geotimes staffers. Lisa Pinsker, who wrote “Deciphering Earth’s Dicey Dipole,” describes current research on Earth’s magnetic field. Many researchers go right to the poles to find clues of the magnetic field’s past. In contrast to simplistic characterizations of the past, the field experiences complex rates of change in intensity and polarity that may have imprinted the rock record with decipherable information on physical and even climatic conditions.

Christina Reed serves up the ultimate contrasts — diamonds, fire and ice, and noble gases — in her piece “Meteorites on Ice.” It so happens that most of the meteorites on Earth have been found in Antarctica. Collections of these tiny extraterrestrials are providing insights into the compositions and history of celestial bodies, which ultimately tell us more about ourselves.

In “An Expanding View of Polar Ice Sheets,” Greg Peterson describes the important climatic link between ice sheets and sea level. Focusing on Antarctica and Greenland, Peterson writes: “If the two sheets melted completely, they would raise sea level by almost 70 meters.” Research, relying on enhanced satellite technologies, is determining changes over time in ice-sheet thickness and rates of flow, in response to perturbations of the multitude of microclimates in these regions. Early results suggest that even “Antarctic glaciers respond to changes in climate on a time scale of decades, not in hundreds or thousands of years.”

The studies featured in this issue share some remote geography, but otherwise are quite different in the foci and methods of their research. Those centered on climate change — and ultimately on developing predictions related thereto — illuminate the fascinating way diverse fields of earth science tease out proxies for climate change and reweave them, as in series of simultaneous equations or coded double helixes, so as to understand how it did happen and predict how it will happen.

Believe your compass and bundle up,

Samuel S. Adams
Geotimes Editor-in-Chief

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