Polar Research Adventures At The Ends Of The Earth

Feb 2, 2016

By Mike Steele, Senior Principal Oceanographer, Polar Science Center/Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington

I grew up in sunny southern California, where snow is something you generally only read about. My family didn’t travel often, so by the time I got to graduate school, I was desperate for some adventure. When the opportunity to study Arctic oceanography arose, I knew that was an adventure I couldn’t pass up! At the time, it seemed like a somewhat risky choice of career; who cared about this remote place? But as it turns out, very dramatic changes are happening up there and it a place that concerns us all.

The ice that floats on the Arctic Ocean is called “sea-ice.” In my work, I try to nail down some of the lesser understood details as to why sea-ice melts away early each year in some places, while it remains much later others. Also, I look at how ice retreat allows the ocean surface to warm, a process has been accelerating in recent years. Along with biologists, we work together to figure out how these changes in sea-ice melting and ocean surface warming, effect arctic marine ecosystems.

New technology has allowed us to collect more data than ever before and it is a very exciting time to be an Arctic scientist. I feel fortunate to be involved in this field exploring some of the most remote, yet important regions of the planet.

Discuss climate change and the melting of sea-ice with Mike Steele during our next Science in the City event on October 11. Find more information on the Science in the CIty events here.


Girl with flowers in her hair using a microscope