Looking at global warming through poetry and science

Discussion includes findings of arctic study on ringed seals

Posted: Friday, December 02, 2005

A poet and a scientist will bring the Evening at Egan lecture series to a close tonight with a discussion blending arts and science relating to climate change in the Arctic.

University of Alaska Southeast Arts and Sciences Dean Brendan Kelly and adjunct English professor Mary "Mo" Hicks will present "Poetry and Science in a Changing Arctic" at 7 p.m. in the Egan Lecture Hall at the Auke Bay campus. The lecture series, which has averaged about 145 people, will resume in the fall.

"We will be leading an informal conversation about what climate change means to Alaskans and the world," said Hicks, who recently won an outstanding achievement award by the International Society of Poets for a poem she wrote about the Arctic. She will read the poem, "Ice Truth," at the presentation.

"I will be reading my poetry that I wrote and relating it to the importance of establishing an ethic about climate change and awareness," Hicks said.

Kelly, a biologist who has studied marine mammals in the Arctic for nearly 30 years, has a keen sense of the changes that have occurred over several decades.

"I'm going to be speaking about my research in the Arctic, primarily on arctic seals with a special focus on the effect of climate change on those seals," he said.

Kelly said he has seen significant changes in the Arctic. He has studied ringed seals on the ice shelves of the Beaufort Sea off the coast of Alaska.

"Particularly in the last 10 years or so the changes are very dramatic," he said. "One example is we're studying an animal that moves back and forth through the ice cover and so we're constantly looking under the ice as well as on top of the ice."

The ice thickness, once consistently 6 feet deep, has been thinning at a rapid rate, Kelly said.

"In the last several years it's much more commonly 4 feet of ice," he said. "So there's a pretty substantial reduction in the ice thickness that is evident in our study area."

Hicks said the climate change and its effects on the landscape affect her as an artist.

"It gave me a real daunting awareness that climate change is important, not just for political, social, economic, commercial reasons, just for every person on this planet," she said.

Kelly will relate the effects through the eyes of a scientist at tonight's lecture, and Hicks will share stories about the changes to the cultures of the Arctic. Hicks said she worries about the lack of unity between cultures and nations on the issue of climate change.

"No matter how isolated cultures are from each other we are all human," she said.

Seeing first-hand the advancement of snow melt coming earlier and earlier each spring and reading literature on the subject, Kelly said the evidence of climate change is quite compelling.

"Global climate change, particularly warming in the Arctic, is indisputable. It's definitely happening," he said. "There is still some debate as to the degree to which it's a result of human actions and particularly the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere."

Kelly said the Arctic is beautiful in a stark sort of way and deserves people's attention.

"You first look at it and it looks like just endless amounts of snow and ice and nothing else, and overtime you appreciate the different hues of white and gray," he said. "The richness comes to you a bit slowly."

• Eric Morrison can be reached at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com

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