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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Science On Ice

A photographer chronicles scientific expeditions in the polar regions

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A graduate student collects a water sample from a melt pond on the sea ice.
While Linder photographs the subjects of the researchers' work—penguins, microscopic algae and glacial lakes—he places just as much emphasis on photographing the people behind the science. This can be difficult because scientists aren't models, and they often work under strict time constraints in the field.

"Photographing scientists is like photographing skittish wildlife. You don't want to spook them so you have to figure out their comfort zone," says Linder. "I typically start farther away and do big picture shots, then slowly work in closer to make portraits of people doing their work."

Many of the scientists he photographs are conducting research related to climate change because the polar regions are where the greatest effects can be measured.

"The poles are critical because what happens there affects what happens in the mid-latitudes—we can't ignore them," emphasizes Linder. "But it's hard to grasp. You can't see a 2º temperature change or a shift in ocean currents. Scientists are very concerned about these changes because they know the impacts will be felt around the world."

In the Arctic, the Bering Sea supports one of the world's largest fisheries. If the sea ice is melting sooner, how will this affect the ecosystem—the phytoplankton, fish, seals, polar bears—and the people who rely on it? In Antarctica, how are penguins affected by a warming planet, and what does this mean for us? Globally, how will rising sea levels impact coastal people, as well as those living inland? Seeking answers to these questions are scientists, the people Linder considers his heroes.

"I've learned so much from scientists, and it would be a shame to keep this incredible amount of knowledge trapped within scientific journals," says Linder. "It's all I can do to pass it on. The polar bears and penguins don't make my job extraordinary—the people do."

Chris Linder is an Associate Fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers. His work has appeared in Geo, Outdoor Photographer and Wired. His new book, Science on Ice: Four Polar Expeditions, is published by the University of Chicago Press. To see more of Linder's work, visit www.chrislinder.com.

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