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Finding Adventure in Antarctica

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One photographer’s journey to the bottom of the world.

Photographs by Jim Graham

Succumbing to an Arctic addiction is easy, especially when you’re as heat averse as I am. Years ago, I traveled north to Iceland. Then I headed to Greenland, finding my way above the Arctic Circle in 2008.

Venturing north on eight separate occasions, I’ve witnessed wonderful glaciers in Iceland retreat hundreds of meters over the years. Each was crawling backward, bit by bit, revealing a rubble-strewn dry bed beneath what once was a thick covering of ancient ice.

In February 2019—summer in the Southern Hemisphere—I hit the road again. After 22 hours in the air, I had a day’s layover in Punta Arenas, the capital city of Chile’s southernmost region. From there, it was another two-hour flight to King George Island and Frei Station, near the tip of the Antarctica Peninsula.

For seven days, we headed south along the coast, stopping at least once daily. Our group was primarily interested in photographing sea ice, using the Zodiacs to cruise the flows for hours at a time. We’d make occasional landings and walk among the native adelie, chinstrap, gentoo and magellanic penguins. The images here document our adventures.

The Arctic and Antarctic sheets have lost 6.4 trillion tons of ice in three decades. Left unabated, the melting could lead to flooding that impacts hundreds of millions of people by 2100. Observations from 11 satellite missions monitoring the Greenland and Antarctic sheets show that the areas are losing ice six times faster than they were in the 1990s.

If the current trend continues, they’ll be on track to match the “catastrophic” scenario presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has sea levels rising an additional 6.7 inches by 2100. It’s been suggested that if Greenland were to lose its ice sheet, the effect could be a 24-foot rise in global sea levels. If the same were to happen in Antarctica, the 200-foot rise would be a far worse outcome.

The exterior of the abandoned British Antarctic Base W on Detaille Island.

Ice loss is already having ripple effects around the globe. We’ve seen changing weather patterns, rising sea levels and more extreme natural disasters. The National Geographic Society has been monitoring the effects of sea rise over time. If its calculations prove accurate, parts of Wilmington will be inundated sometime over the next century.

 

Click through the gallery to see photos from Graham’s journey.