Speaker emphasizes beauty of human interaction through ‘doom and gloom’ of diminishing Arctic

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“Teale Lecture” provids by Dr. John England in Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. His lecture including the history of ancient ice sheets, sea ice and sea level that place dramatic modern changes of the Arctic environment. (Photo by Congyang An/The Daily Campus)

John England, an Earth and Atmospheric Sciences professor from the University of Alberta in Canada, discussed the impact of climate change on the arctic, and the effects on people worldwide at the University of Connecticut yesterday.

The Konover Auditorium in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center was packed for England’s discussion of his research, part of the Edwin Way Teale lecture series.

England emphasized his research is important, but the connections between all of us are what truly matter.

“We’ve had a tradition where we separate science from human communities and human relationships…it’s not that way anymore,” England said. “We’re looking at…the needs of people.”

England explained the discovery of the importance of human connection in his research was transformative for him.

“There’s a deeper and more meaningful relationship in everything we do, and if you’re not finding that in your science, then you’re not doing your science meaningfully,” England said.

England has worked on reconstructing ancient ice sheets, sea ice and sea level changes, Bernard Goffinet, a UConn professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, said. After spending 50 years studying the area, England has gained a valuable long term perspective and understanding of the arctic in a changing world, according to Goffinet.

“You can’t show the arctic without emphasizing the beauty and the serenity, and its one of the last places I would say that is part of the original earth,” England said. “[It’s] a magical place, a place of silence and great environmental integrity.”

One of the main subjects of England’s research is arctic ice sheets. The formation and removal of former ice sheets are the largest input to modeling ongoing and future sea level change, England said.

“Think of…ice sheets doing CPR on the Earth’s crust,” England said.

This effect is much greater than tectonic movement, where the Himalayan Mountains might go up one meter for a thousand years. In comparison, there are places in Canada where the land is going up nearly 30 meters in a century due to ice sheet formation and removal, England said.

One part of England’s research is the breakup of ice shelves, which are the thinner parts of ice sheets that float on the surface of the ocean. The melting and breakup of modern ice shelves in Antarctica and Greenland is key to predictions for sea level rise this century, England said.

Climate change is a major factor in the diminishing arctic ice, England said.

“Sea ice has been reducing in an aerial extent. We lost huge amounts of sea ice,” England said.

As we lose sea ice, sea levels rise, and oceans expand. Expanding ocean surfaces are exposed to more sunlight, causing them to heat up even faster, England said.

These changes in the arctic ultimately affect people across the globe, England said. He brought up diagrams of locations at risk of rising sea levels, referencing the forced migration of coastal populations.

“Climate change is obviously going to [have] an enormous influence…[on] climate refugees,” England said.

The instability of the ice shelves are a sleeping giant, England said.

“This is no time to doze off,” he said.

As the ice melts in the arctic, England said arctic shipping is increasing as well.

“We’re looking at shipping all over the arctic now, especially in the northern sea route,” England said. “The Russians, and the Koreans and the Chinese, they’re making ice breakers like popcorn…huge implications for the use of this environment.”

Related: Arctic shipping predicted to reduce global warming by ten percent.

Despite all the “doom and gloom,” England said he has had many beautiful experiences in the Canadian Arctic.

He emphasized that although his scientific career is important, the friendships and connections he has found throughout his many years of research are even more valuable.

“I wish I knew earlier in my career how vitally important those human relationships were, and how enriching they were,” England said.


Natalie Baliker is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at natalie.baliker@uconn.edu.

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