Ode to Antarctica
Some things cut through. Illuminating and potentially blinding you.
The brilliant sparkle of the isolated continent of Antarctica is one such place. So substantial, and so heavy with frozen mass. Giving an air of permanence and untouchability.
Antarctica cuts through. There’s no need for a homage if you have seen it. Even translated through the eyes of a scientist, like myself, some things cut through.
I can recall, for example, with intricate detail, the fluff of a young snow petrel chick hidden by parents in a quartz cave.
I can quickly bring to mind the oddly growing crystal ice – geometric shoots growing up from blue lakes.
In my head, a clip can play, of a penguin swimming past a grounded iceberg, leaving a steady trail of feathered bubbles. Fields of fanworms, like poppies in the dark, picking plankton from the paucity. Wild storms above, circling cyclonic, double-low pressure systems, ready to swoop down and literally sweep me off my feet. The summer sun, never fully setting, on an iridescent silk of pinks, purples, and apricots.
Antarctica is screen-saved on my mind. As it will be for many Antarctic scientists.
But Antarctica itself is not saved. And nor are we.
Antarctica cuts through to the core of my understanding as a marine ecologist, the core of my world view.
But the Antarctic continent shouldn’t just tattoo the consciousness of scientists – it should cut through to all of us with all of its beautifully brutal, critically harsh reality.
It is after all, a conveyor belt of blue. Creator and feeder of the circumpolar circle of currents and wind. That, encouraged by the melt of fresh snow and ice, prime the sinking pump of deep water. Formed and lost into an astoundingly wild and deep surrounding sea. That sea-sink, feeding a global conveyor belt of cooling winds, waves and currents.
And this is of course, our last remaining cap, once they were a pair, poles apart.
Since the Arctic has been fleeced to a singleyear snow-layer of brittle sea-ice, barely strong enough to support the birthing igloo of a pregnant ring seal.
We’ve got work to do, to cut through, with our precious last cap.
This is a place that, “left misunderstood”, will touch us all. A place that ebbs and flows like no other after 30 million years of icy isolation.
Today we encroach upon that isolation; the ice flows faster and the seas warm, imperceptibly perhaps, to a sleepy seal, but faster and faster still.
This place, left misunderstood, will hurt more than the seals and the penguins. The ice unkempt, will be more than screen-saved on my mind, it will be indelibly printed as water on the walls of our cities.
PROF EMMA JOHNSTON