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.