Why Do I Do This?
- By Max Holmes
- July 23, 2012
I’m sitting on the Barge, drinking a cup of coffee, watching snow whip across the Panteleikha River. More than 24 hours of rain and snow have turned the dirt runway in Cherskiy to mud, threatening to delay our trip home (which is supposed to begin later today as we fly from Cherskiy to Yakutsk). A delayed flight out of Cherskiy would have many ripple effects (lots of rebooking of flights, hotels, buses, etc; lots of disappointment as our reunions with family and friends are postponed; and lots of additional expenses, potentially reaching $50,000…).
There are many easier things to do in life than to lead a group of 33 people to the Siberian Arctic, so why do I do this?
I’ve been asking myself that question this morning, intertwined with thoughts about missing my 6 year old son and 3 year old daughter, and facing the prospect of missing my wife’s 40th birthday on July 27.
Fortunately, there is an easy answer: This is the most important thing I can imagine doing. The Arctic is at the epicenter of global climate change, and how the Arctic responds to warming will have a huge influence on Earth’s climate system (and therefore human society) over the coming years and decades. The permafrost of the Arctic contains vast quantities of ancient organic matter, and nowhere is it more concentrated or more vulnerable than in the region I’m looking at now through the window of the Barge. Though our group of 33 is huge in some senses (such as when thinking about rebooking flights across 16 time zones…), it is tiny when compared to the magnitude of challenges facing scientists – and society – as we grapple with trying to understand the Arctic. So, I’ll keep hoping that our flight departs as scheduled this afternoon, but if not, I – and the larger group – will rally and use our extra time here to pry a few more secrets from this remarkable, challenging, critical, and beautiful environment.