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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Science On Ice

A photographer chronicles scientific expeditions in the polar regions

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Chris Linder's new book, Science on Ice, delivers a visual glimpse into the challenges scientists face in the field while conducting research in the extreme environments found in the Arctic and Antarctic. Linder went on four polar expeditions during the International Polar Year (2007-2009) to get the stories of what goes on behind the scenes. For each trip, he teamed up with a science journalist, and together they combine words and pictures to reveal a detailed look at how science gets done at the poles. Above: The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy cuts through slabs of broken sea ice in the Bering Sea.

Sleeping on the Greenland Ice Sheet, waddling with penguins in Antarctica and cruising aboard an icebreaker in the Bering Sea are typical days in the life of photographer Chris Linder. An oceanographer by training and a research associate with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Linder has a thing for science—and ice—and he wants the world to know about both. For nearly a decade, he has used his photography to communicate to the public the stories of scientists working in the Arctic and Antarctica. His book, Science on Ice: Four Polar Expeditions (University of Chicago Press, 2011), pays homage to scientists who brave brutal polar conditions to gather crucial information about Earth's distant past, as well as the risks that climate change poses for its future.

"Most people think scientists work in a lab, wear white coats and stare at computer screens," says Linder. "The scientists I know camp on ice sheets, wear crampons and stare at penguins. I want to change the stereotype of how science is perceived and communicate just how fun and exciting it is with the hope that people—particularly kids—will want to learn more."

Left: The Swedish icebreaker Oden navigates the Arctic pack ice. Center: A scientist camps on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Right: Rotors still turning, a helicopter parks on an ice floe while the crew retrieves an instrument.

The four polar expeditions highlighted in Linder's book took place during the International Polar Year (2007-2009). On each expedition, he teamed up with a science writer, and together they dispatched daily stories and photos via a satellite phone to a website (polardiscovery.whoi.edu) so people could follow the expeditions in real time. Participating museums also hosted telephone conversations with the scientists in the field so the public could interact directly with the researchers. In addition to covering the scientific purpose of each expedition, Science on Ice tells the behind-the-scenes stories of who's conducting the research and the challenges of working on, under or surrounded by ice.

"Ice has many flavors," says Linder. "In the Arctic, first-year ice in the summer is only a few feet thick, and yet you're standing on top of 4,000 meters of water in the Beaufort Sea. On the Greenland Ice Sheet, you're camped on a 1,000-meter-thick slab of glacial ice that's slowly oozing toward the ocean."

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