Leo Sage returns to town in Utqiagvik, Alaska after hunting bearded seals with his father by boat in the Arctic Ocean. They were unsuccessful. For thousands of years, Inupiat villagers along Alaska’s North Slope have hunted marine mammals such as seal, walrus and whale. Hunting, fishing and foraging for food, known as subsistence, remains one of the most significant aspects of life in Inupiat communities. A child’s first seal hunt is an important right of passage, especially now as these traditions are being challenged as a result of climate change. July was officially the warmest month in Alaskan history and Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow) the northernmost town in the United States, has been labeled “ground zero for climate change.” With Arctic permafrost thawing much faster than expected, releasing carbon gases that could drastically speed up climate change, Arctic communities like Utqiagvik will feel it first. Photo published in @natgeo Special Issue: The State of the Arctic. More at the link in my bio.
“Is trying to save permafrost by restoring the Arctic steppe really so much crazier than counting on humans to quickly retool the world’s energy system? Maybe we need a little craziness.” Excerpt of @craigwelch ’s masterful writing and analysis in “The Carbon Threat” online now @natgeo (link in bio). “The modern world has responded to the warming Arctic with complacency. We’ve spent decades ignoring the evidence of climate change and hoping that things won’t get too bad. We count on technological advances that seem always just out of reach. And we do this in spite of the fact that climate scientists—permafrost experts in particular— say all signs point to the need for urgent and even audacious action.” Father and son Siberian scientists Sergey and Nikita Zimov believe that by recreating the ecosystem of the Pleistocene era, which was dominated by grasslands and large mammals like woolly mammoths, they can slow down permafrost thaw. To test this theory, they are now importing wild horses like the ones seen here as well other animals like bison, yaks and moose to a site along a tributary of the Kolyma River they have named Pleistocene Park. Arctic permafrost is thawing much faster than expected, releasing carbon gases that could drastically speed up climate change.
And one more for the road… Pond on Fire. Fairbanks, Alaska. In this image, flammable methane, a potent greenhouse gas, bubbles from the thawing permafrost beneath a frozen lake. Trapped by ice in winter, the gas escapes and can be measured—or set on fire—when you punch a hole through the ice. This time @david_w_shaw was kind enough to demonstrate. Arctic permafrost is thawing much faster than expected, releasing carbon gases that could drastically speed up climate change. And the methane gas that bubbles from the oxygen- deprived mud under ponds and lakes is 25 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2. Permafrost refers to the layer of continuously frozen soil that covers almost 1/4th of the Earth’s surface, found mostly in the Arctic. Most permafrost areas have been frozen for more than 10,000 years. Learn more at the link in my bio to “The Carbon Threat” my recent article for @natgeo written by @craigwelch .
Methane Bubbles. Smith Lake in Fairbanks, Alaska. From “The Carbon Threat” (link in bio) for @natgeo written by @craigwelch . That fire photo from yesterday…this is where it comes from. As permafrost thaws beneath Arctic lakes and ponds, it releases Carbon dioxide and methane bubbles into the water. When the water freezes in the winter, it traps the bubbles in ice. So if you punch a hole through the ice, the gas escapes and can be set on fire, as seen in my last post when @uafairbanks scientists demonstrated this for me last winter. The methane gas that bubbles from the oxygen- deprived mud under ponds and lakes is quite beautiful; it is also 25 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2. All permafrost thaw leads to greenhouse gas emissions, but lakes and ponds like the one seen here accelerate the threat. @uafairbanks ecologist Katey Walter Anthony has been measuring the methane coming from Arctic lakes for two decades. Her latest calculations, published in 2018, suggest that new lakes created by abrupt thaw could nearly triple the greenhouse gas emissions expected from permafrost. Arctic permafrost is thawing much faster than expected, releasing carbon gases that could drastically speed up climate change. Permafrost refers to the layer of continuously frozen soil that covers almost 1/4th of the Earth’s surface, found mostly in the Arctic. Most permafrost areas have been frozen for more than 10,000 years.
Methane lake fire in Fairbanks, Alaska. Today is the day! I’ve been photographing in the Arctic for close to six years, trying to tell stories that put a human face on climate change. For nearly two of those years I've been working on “The Carbon Threat” for @natgeo , and it is online today! (link in my bio and on newsstands in September). The article, written by @craigwelch , tackles the urgent subject of permafrost thaw. It has been one of the most challenging stories I have ever photographed, a journey that fluctuated from frustrating and disturbing to fascinating and inspiring at a moment's notice. Working on it was both a serious responsibility and an honor, and I want to thank everyone who helped make it happen from Utqiagvik, Alaska to Chersky, Siberia. Thank you to the outstanding writer/partner in crime @craigwelch , the brilliant, dedicated (and patient) @sadiequarrier and @roseleen for her vision, guidance and trust. What is happening to our planet is not easy to swallow, but we must confront it head on. I hope our article can help the public and policymakers recognize this new, urgent reality and take action. Arctic permafrost is thawing much faster than expected, releasing carbon gases that could drastically speed up climate change. Just over the course of our reporting scientists have come to believe that what was once hundreds of years away could now happen in our lifetime, with permafrost thaw releasing 2 to nearly three 3 times more greenhouse gases than expected. In this image, flammable methane, a potent greenhouse gas, bubbles from the thawing permafrost beneath a frozen lake. Trapped by ice in winter, the gas escapes and can be measured—or set on fire—when you punch a hole through the ice, as @uafairbanks scientist demonstrates here. Permafrost refers to the layer of continuously frozen soil that covers almost 1/4th of the Earth’s surface, found mostly in the Arctic. Most permafrost areas have been frozen for more than 10,000 years. Trapped inside permafrost are carbon dioxide and methane gas, and if they released into the atmosphere by permafrost thaw, will make today’s fossil fuel emissions look like chump change.
Polar bear in Svalbard, Norway. Photographed while circumnavigating the Svalbard Archipelago with @seilnorge in August, 2017. Polar bears exist in only five countries-Canada, Russia, The United States, Greenland and Norway. And out of them all Svalbard, Norway has the largest polar bear population of only 3,000 bears. The polar bear has long been the poster child for endangered wildlife and climate change, even though there are so many other incredible animal species under threat around the world. Still, as the earth gets warmer and the climate changes, polar bears truly are suffering, going hungry or starving as they are unable to hunt on the melting sea ice across the Arctic. And as a result they are putting themselves in even more harm’s way by searching for human food out of desperation. Polar bears are one of the most strong and carnivorous animals on the planet, but they are no match against a few bullets.
A bearded seal in Svalbard, Norway. Before I get ahead of myself with new photos from this past week journeying through Alaska’s Inside Passage, I want to continue sharing just a few more images from another beautiful, wild, extraordinary place I travelled to with Sail Norway @seilnorge -the Svalbard archipelago. According to the Norwegian Environment Agency, temperatures in Svalbard have risen five times faster than the global average. Therefore it is officially the fastest warming place on the planet, an unfortunate distinction I always thought Alaska held. The climate news from the global North has been particularly dire this summer, but I also don’t want to forget to associate this magical and incredible place with all the things I love, like my favorite marine mammal- the sweet, smelly, painfully cute seal.
My first ever drone photo, shot at 80 degrees north in Svalbard on a borrowed drone (thanks @matsgrimseth !-currently at sea as captain of the Valiente!). Two years ago Sail Norway @seilnorge helped make my dreams come true when I joined a sailing adventure that circumnavigated Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago that lies between mainland Norway and the North Pole (Huge thanks to all the wonderful folks at @seilnorge and merman viking prince @estigarild ). Sailing is one of the most sustainable ways to explore the Arctic’s fragile seas, and environmentally conscious travel alternatives in the Arctic are crucial right now. Climate change has already transformed the Arctic, and will continue to do so at an ever-increasing pace, impacting nearly every aspect of life from the environmental to the economic. And one striking example of this is how frozen oceans have melted into safe waterways for massive cruise and cargo ships. As a result the Arctic tourism business is booming. It’s been labeled “Last Chance Tourism”- as sea ice vanishes, glaciers retreat, and wild animals lose their natural habitat, more and more people want to see it all before its gone. Tourism, if done right, can provide economic opportunities that will help Arctic communities transition away from extractive and environmentally damaging industries. However it requires a delicate balance to manage travelers’ increasing desire to explore without further damaging vulnerable ecosystems.
On their way to the USA. I met these 16 and 14 year old brothers in the La 72 Migrant Shelter in Tenosique, Mexico in 2015. They were on their way to meet their mother, already in the United States. These brave children were fleeing gang recruitment and death threats in Honduras, and had already faced incredible dangers along the migrant trail by the time they made it to Southern Mexico. They had such a long road ahead of them. I want nothing more than to believe they made it safely to their mother in the USA. And that they are still here, enjoying this beautiful summer day.
River herring at Woodhull Dam, one of the sites of the @peconic_estuary Program’s river herring project in Long Island, New York. These impressive fishies will migrate all the way from the ocean up miles and miles of urbanized and degraded waterways to spawn in ponds like this. A few weeks ago I worked on assignment with @pewenvironment to document the marine conservation efforts they are undertaking and promoting with partners like @peconic_estuary , who are working to repair migratory runs and protect local species like river herring. (Side note- it was the first time I have ever worked on an environmental/conservation story in my own backyard which was really awesome!)
This is a baby tapir. And no, you are not dreaming, it really is this cute. It is also a crucial part of Central and South American ecosystems. Tapirs are known as “the gardeners of the forest”- they spread fruit seeds through their feces and promote biodiversity and healthy plant growth. However agricultural development, deforestation, poaching, and roadkill accidents are threatening to completely wipe out this endangered herbivore species. Thankfully, there are people like Patrícia Medici @epmedici a passionate and inspiring Brazilian conservation biologist who is dedicating her life to saving tapirs (learn more at @incab_brasil ). I photographed Patricia, and this little guy, last week on assignment for @insidenatgeo in honor of her receiving the National Geographic/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation at #NatGeoFest this June.
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