Earth Day is the day devoted to focusing on our Earth environment and taking a look at what we can do to help sustain it. The Polar Regions are two of the best places to see how fragile our environment really is and how quickly it is impacted by things like climate change.
I spent seven seasons working in the Antarctic before joining the State Department and have been able to witness some of these changes first hand. The base I was at was called McMurdo Station, and in front of the station was a beautiful sound that plunged to a depth of 500 feet in front of a mountain range that rose to a height of 13,000 feet with auroras swirling overhead in the winter.
Each year the sea ice would form in the sound and be thick enough for flights from New Zealand to land on its surface. But as the Austral summer approached, it would eventually melt and thin and be swept out to sea by the winds.
But the first year that I arrived, this did not happen because an iceberg the size of Jamaica had broken off from the Ross Ice Shelf on the continent a few years before, then split again and parked a portion of itself at the open end of the sound.
Labeled B-15, the main iceberg still is the largest ever recorded at 183 miles long and 23 miles wide, and its other half B-15A caused all kinds of problems with our resupply vessels that year. B-15 bumped around the Southern Ocean for another 12 years. Since then four other massive icebergs have entered the waters at both poles: B-31, C-19, D-16 and the ice sheet that broke off of the Peterman Glacier in Greenland.
This year Earth Day is on Wednesday, April 22. If you’d like to celebrate with us, check out Anthony Powell’s award-winning documentary film Antarctica: A Year on Ice.