A freshman and a graduate student will each take a trip to a polar research institute in Norway, thanks to their strong writing abilities, knowledge of global warming, and a partnership between AU and the Norwegian embassy.
This is the second year that students have been invited by the embassy to submit essays on climate change and the arctic for a contest whose winners get a first-hand look at the far north.
It’s a region where climate change isn’t just something to read about. It’s visible in the thinning ice and expanding stretches of open water that make it necessary for explorers like Norway’s Liv Arnesen and the US’s Ann Bancroft, who spoke at the awards ceremony, to don wet suits to cover areas they used to be able to ski across.
Arnesen and Bancroft, the first women to ski across Antarctica, also have traveled across the Arctic and inspire school children around the world with the interactive Web curriculum that follows their journeys.
Brian Spak, MA/SIS ’10, and freshman Helen Killeen won’t go as far afield as the women athletes — they’ll go to Tromso, Norway, site of the Norwegian Polar Institute — but they’ll get a taste of the part of the world that has captivated Arnesen and Bancroft.
“We’ve been traveling in these environments for most of our adult lives,” Bancroft told the standing-room-only crowd at SIS. “We see the change. In the ’80s, we didn’t see nearly the open water, the thin ice. We never imagined we’d be swimming in the arctic.”
Ice has broken up under their tent at night. They’ve noticed that polar bears, with their habitats shrinking and their food sources harder to find, seem crowded into smaller areas and more aggressive. And in Antarctica, they trudged across the continent during the warmest summer on record, struggling on the difficult terrain that is produced when ice melts and refreezes.
The women were followed by three million school children in 116 countries during their epic Antarctic journey. In many ways, that’s the point of their adventures: to inspire young people to follow their dreams. Not everyone, of course, wants to grow up to ski across 1,800 miles of the frozen wastes of Antarctica, but everyone has a dream that will involve hard work and pushing your own limits.
“It’s important to go beyond your safety zone. Then, you can grow,” said Arneson. “If you choose not to do that, life can be really boring.”
They see their teamwork as a smaller version of what is needed on a global scale: “We’re not going to solve global problems without coming together. Partnership is the way it works,” Bancroft said.
That, too, was the point of the essays written by Spak and Killeen, who each connected the physical, legal and geopolitical implications of melting ice and proposed ways for the eight Arctic nations to address the issues collaboratively.
Spak, who is studying in the Global Environmental Politics program, entered last year’s contest and didn’t win, but it sparked a deep curiosity that led him to study about the arctic on his own throughout the year. This May, he’ll be heading to Norway.
The other winner was a freshman, Helen Killeen of Boulder, Colorado, whose mother and brothers happened to be in town on a spring break trip and were there to applaud when her name was announced as a winner. “I’m so proud of her,” said her mother, Roberta Killeen, who added the family often talks about climate change at home.
Johan Vibe, deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of Norway, was impressed by the quality of the entries. “AU students really know their stuff,” he said. He also passed on a word of advice to the gathered crowd: “Keep up the spirit of adventure.”