I am writing this sitting in a tent in Antarctica, surrounded by whiteness and wilderness. I have come here to undertake geological research as part of the joint US-UK International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, which seeks to determine how the mighty Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica will contribute to the rate and timing of sea level rise across the globe in the coming decades. This is urgent work – the rate of ice discharge from the glacier has more than doubled over the past 2 decades, and looks set to increase further. Under the right conditions, the glacier also has the potential to enter a runaway retreat phase which could result in catastrophic ice loss because its catchment reaches hundreds of kilometres inland.
Antarctica reminds me more than anything of the hidden artwork in medieval cathedrals created by sculptors and painters to the greater glory of God. One is unaccustomedly hypersensitive here to the act of Creation. Elsewhere on earth, man is the most successful mammal: in Antarctica, wonderfully, he has only a precarious toehold.
Sir Peter Maxwell Davis, Composer
Where does our sense of awe at the beauty and immensity of nature come from? We climb mountains to enjoy vast panoramas, go outdoors on a chilly night to gaze at the stars, or spend hours glued to a TV screen watching a nature documentary, delighting in the complexity of the world around us. Are these emotions simply the result of cultural conditioning or are they a sign of something deeper? Continue reading →