A Glacier Scientist Goes Running

Somewhere south and east of Fairbanks, Alaska there’s a little town that has a Russian grocery store. This is not entirely unexpected. For several hundred years beginning in the 17th century, Russian traders and trappers rampaged across the Alaskan landscape like spurned lovers, murdering seals, whales, and indigenous peoples with unbounded enthusiasm, and they made a great deal of money in the process. In time, this colonial regime was replaced by another one, this time from the south. The Americans took over Alaska officially in 1867 and have managed its seals, whales, and indigenous peoples like one might manage a livestock business. But the Russian influence persists in the state. Children can learn Russian in school; there are Russian immigrant communities. And, to serve this niche population, there are various shops stocked with Russian goods.

Inside this grocery store, though, hidden between shelves of strange foods with cyrillic labels, the persistent shopper can root out a store of frozen pizzas. And it’s this hoard that has many times served the last-minute needs of a young glaciologist named Sam Herreid, who spent so much time in his office at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, double-checking batteries, cameras, and fancy thermal sensors for his field trips onto the glacier that he forgot to include what you might call batteries for himself, namely food. Realizing after driving out of the thin suburbs of his hometown into one of the largest wildernesses on Earth that he hadn’t actually packed anything to eat, he was often grateful to skid to a stop in front of the grocery store and emerge shortly thereafter with several frozen pizzas.

These pizzas, of course, were frozen. But they were cooked, or at least cooked enough not to get him sick. And by placing them on the dashboard of his car for the rest of the 2.5-hour drive to the foot of his glacier, they managed to thaw out enough that, as he says, “I could just roll them up and put them in my pack.”

“Then I’d just tear chunks off of the roll whenever I got hungry over the next few days.”

Sam Herreid, en route to the glacier

This kind of distracted attitude, demonstrating little concern for basic needs, you might normally expect from some older scientist, the kind of frazzled character pacing back and forth in a candlelit study all night working on some physics problem that has more letters than a children’s book. But Sam Herreid is only 32, young and fit and with dark hair above a somber face. And in fact he hasn’t been in Alaska in several years because he had to go off to Europe to earn his PhD, so at the time when he was buying frozen pizzas in remote Russian outposts in the Alaskan bush he was only in his mid-twenties and could easily have been mistaken for some youthful hoarder building a cache against the threat of nuclear winter. But that’s mostly because every time he went into the backcountry he carried enormous backpacks full of things like car batteries and sprouting antennae that made him look like a giant lumpy insect.

Sam Herreid is not a hoarder, however. He’s a scientist. Ever since he was a doe-eyed freshman at the University of Alaska he has wanted to learn about glaciers, and his focus on the matter was so single-minded, and he applied for and earned so many grants for undergraduate research, that the glaciology department (which only exists as a graduate degree) eventually just sighed and gave him his own office. From this office he concentrated his research down to an area of glaciers almost completely overlooked by other glaciologists — the very ends of them. Specifically, he wanted to know about the parts of glaciers that have become so covered with dirt and rubble that they are sometimes difficult to even recognize as glaciers.

“Whenever we’d be on a field expedition, the instructors would be pointing all over the place except at the toe of the glacier, which was covered with dirt. And I’d say, ‘what about that part?’ and they’d say, ‘no, don’t worry about that.’ But I wanted to know.”

And in time he did come to know about that part of a glacier. In fact, by this point over ten years later, he is one of the world’s foremost experts on the sediment-covered portions of glaciers. (That’s how getting your PhD works: you have to specialize.) In fact, right now his work is focusing on creating tools allowing scientists around the world to model glaciers (and glacial retreat) more effectively by integrating the effects of sediment cover into their calculations. Because sediment can insulate glaciers and slow their melting, his research will almost certainly reduce projected amounts of sea level rise associated with human-caused climate change. But getting to this point required a long road and a lot of extremely difficult work in remote places. And he did a lot of it in short shorts, running up and down his glacier by himself under the curving Alaskan sun, powered by frozen pizzas just barely thawed enough to chew.

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Sam (left) and a friend

Those who follow the world of trail running are familiar with its language of simplicity and minimalism. To read a running magazine is to bounce upon verbal bubbles of freedom and exploration. Those who follow the world of geophysics, by contrast, tend to prioritize equipment in the field. Since a pleasant experience and an effective scientific experience are not always one and the same, a geophysical paper tends to emphasize stolid effort and firm technique. The scientific process must be repeatable, after all, so stability in data-gathering is paramount. Sam Herreid threads a needle between these two approaches, accomplishing the unexpected feat of making running really heavy and science really dynamic.

He tends to work alone. “I’ve got climber friends, but they don’t want to carry car batteries in their backpacks and sit around and play with electronics. They want to go climbing. And I’ve got nerd friends who are happy to sit around and play with electronics and carry car batteries, but they don’t have that same…well, I guess it’s a difference in pace. And I was lucky because I built my field program around not needing too much equipment,” he says.

“For my work, I was interested in the height of the rock layer on a glacier, which you can’t really infer from an aerial photograph. So a lot of my work was just racing around anywhere I could get to and digging holes in the rock layer, measuring the thickness, taking a GPS point, and getting a distributed map of how thick the rock layer is. So really all you need is a field book, a gps, and a yardstick.”

The runner would be horrified to hear him tell of the time he did take a few peons into the backcountry to help him with his field work. Using technology no more advanced than shovels and manpower, their goal was to dig through all the dirt on top of the glacier until they reached the ice below. “It was over two meters deep, with everything from boulders the size of your leg down to fine silt. And the worst was that we dug this pit for a couple of days. And then I installed a string of thermistors, because I wanted to look at how the heat penetrated the rock layer. So we spent several days digging this hole and installing this thermistor string and then I was like, ‘alright, let’s fill it back up!’ and they were like, ‘WHAT!’ And so that’s why nobody wanted to help me with these projects, because we would do absurd things like that.”

This is how Sam loses his friends

However, the scientist might be horrified to hear of his method of conducting experiments while in the field. His work largely involves measuring the temperature at various depths of the sediment and ice on and in glaciers, and measuring their flow rates. Getting data on this requires placing devices up and down the glacier, often miles apart, and he has to check on these devices regularly. Rather than marching up and down the ice in heavy boots, he puts on shorts and running shoes, and carries a lightweight pack with equipment and (when he remembers) some food. Then he starts running. Striding up and down the glacier by running directly on the ice, he’s able to cover large distances in short periods of time simply because he’s so fit. Because his research only makes sense when there is not fresh snow on the glacier, he conducts his field work in the late summer, and the ice surface is usually gritty and perfect for running. Furthermore, the crevasses are all exposed this time of year, so he’s able to go around these abyssal cracks in the ice or simply hop over them like Kilian Jornet in every movie about Kilian Jornet.

He does this because it’s efficient. But there’s a better reason too: he just loves running. Possibly more to the point, he hates hiking. “Okay, I’ll rant to you,” he told me, as if I wasn’t about to share this with the whole world, “if you like running and you ask a hiker to go for a run with you, they’re allowed to say no and it’s not rude. But if you like hiking and you ask a runner if they’d like to go for a hike with you, and they say no, then you’re allowed to be mad at them, because if you can run then you can hike. But that’s unfair, because I just hate hiking. I’d much rather run.”

On clear days, when the sky is opaline blue and the mountain environment still and silent, the only sounds in the world are his footsteps on the gritty glacier surface, one after another, step after step, crunching up the valley. Unwitnessed and unconcerned, he breathes easily and his thoughts range from battery power to the papers he’ll write to nothing at all. With large-scale purpose floating in and out of relevance like a downy cloud on a summer day, he strides serenely up the valley, up his valley, the valley of the Canwell Glacier which he’s welcome to claim because no other glaciologist has been there. In all the vast Alaskan landscape, crossed by caribou and birds and occasional buzzing airplanes, there is nothing so much as space, and a wee thing like a 30-mile-long glacier fades into the details to all who aren’t actively searching for such things.

Sam found this glacier because it was close to home, easy to access, and offered great information about erosional processes. Occasionally he’ll see some hunters, or an intrepid hiker or two. Actually, he often accesses the glacier by riding an overly-laden bicycle up an old mining road, so some grizzled miner in his tumbledown arctic cabin somewhere must be aware of the Canwell Glacier. But aside from the road and a few piles of stone, he left little indication of human intrusion. So Sam runs alone on the primeval ice and it’s quiet, it’s simple, it’s good.

However, those who’ve spent any time in Alaska at all would be more familiar with what might be termed “typical weather.” This can be characterized simply by watching a short video Sam made once (included below) of himself and a friend riding their bikes up to (and upon) the glacier. Close inspection of the landscape reveals that, yes, there may once have been a sort of road-like shape imparted to the landscape, but it’s far from the kind of smooth gravel ribbon inspiring the new gravel-biking craze. And the gravel-biking world would be concerned as well with their equipment, which is enormous, obviously heavy, and painfully bulky. The two riders achieve a steady 0.5 mile-per-hour pace as they jounce between rocks and into small canyons.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TTMzT2Y2Ug

Above and around them, however — even underneath them — the atmosphere swirls. Fair-weather southerners (“from down in the states,” as the Alaskan saying goes) might call it a storm, but a Fairbanks man such as Sam would simply call it another day in the mountains. It’s snowing, windy, cold, maybe raining as well somehow, and generally damp and unpleasant. It’s the kind of weather that makes you dread setting up a tent because you know that no matter how efficient your process, you will nevertheless end up with just as much water on the inside as on the outside, and then you’ll have the opportunity to sit all night in a damp sleeping bag in a damp tent eating cold, uncooked pizza while the wind buffets the walls like the bad guy from the movie Scream buffeting that shower curtain.

But don’t worry, because Sam only brought a 32-degree sleeping bag in order to save weight for important things like car batteries and thermistors, so he’ll just do sit-ups all night to stay warm, which is great for ab strength (and for impressing those hot glaciologist ladies!)

Alaskan gravel riding

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Some equipment is too expensive to leave unattended, like a certain time-lapse camera that records the glacier’s surface temperature. To attend to these portions of his field work Sam simply sits on the ground next to the camera, looking out over the alpine landscape for hours at a time. A breeze ruffles his hair. A bird flies over.

“You see these incredible sunrises, this incredible scenery, when you’re out there all day. You don’t have to be a lucky photographer. You’re literally just sitting there all the time, so if something incredible happens, you’re going to see it. And that’s the hardest thing, is to not share that with other people. Like, if you don’t take a picture then it’s just a moment that was gone. There’s also a lot of wildlife out there, so you’re never really alone.”

At these times there is plenty of opportunity for reflection. Why does he study glaciers? What is it about the dirty ends of them that is so interesting he’s willing to dedicate his life to the subject? But he seems not to ruminate on these questions much. They are simply too insubstantial — why do people love animals, or sports, or anything at all? He knows this is what he wants to study and that’s enough. He’d rather spend his time wondering about the glaciers themselves, because there is so much to learn about these rivers of ice that there’s really no time to waste in a short life.

“It’s just what I want to learn about. It’s small and not really relatable to most people, but it’s my field and it’s really cool to be on the front of a field of knowledge, to be able to actually expand the limits of human knowledge, even in this small area of science.”

Settling in

Glaciers are one of the few geological forces that can be witnessed in action on a human time scale. They form by the accumulation of snow: if enough snow survives the warmth of summer, new snow is added to it the next winter. If that snow survives the next summer, even more winter snow is added. This process continues until the year-over-year snow becomes so heavy that it compresses the lower levels into ice. As this ice accumulates, it develops a great deal of mass, which creates a tremendous downward force on the landscape, and when that landscape is not perfectly flat, this downward force tends to translate into motion. When a mass of ice moves downhill under the force of its own weight, it qualifies as a glacier.

“Glacier ice is very compacted snow,” explains Sam. “The process is a metamorphosis. You have snow crystals that are compressed to a very high density, and as it becomes thicker and thicker it takes on new rheological properties — meaning new properties in how it flows and behaves — because it ends up deforming under its own weight. It becomes a viscoelastic fluid and it’s able to literally flow.”

Erosion at work

Erosional processes are constantly working to grind mountains away. Wind, rain, snow, water, rockfall, chemical weathering — a hundred and more actions are always at work on the landscape, breaking it down in large and small chunks and carrying those chunks far away. Glaciers are some of the most powerful erosional forces working at the surface of the Earth, and their effects can be seen in the shapes of thousands of landscapes around the world where glaciers once existed but have since melted back.

If erosional processes were the only geological forces, the Earth’s land surfaces would be flat, unvarying, and spread out widely between the oceans. But the center of the Earth is so hot that it causes the crust to buckle and deform. The creation of mountains requires tremendous force that comes from far below the Earth’s surface. The heat of the Earth’s core and the pressures at depth cause the unbelievably-dense rock (in the — fancy-word-alert — Asthenosphere) several hundred kilometers below the crust to actually flow. It doesn’t flow like water, or even like molasses, but it does act like a fluid in certain ways. Above this layer sits the Lithosphere, which is more brittle because it experiences less pressure and heat, and this layer comprises the tectonic plates, which are constantly — but very slowly — floating around on the Asthenosphere and bumping into one another and building up mountains or opening ocean basins. I have a geologist friend, Loren Davis, who explained it this way:

“If you’re stoked on talking broad strokes here, the reason mountains exist is because the Earth’s center is trying to reach the same temperature as the void that surrounds it. Mountains exist because the Earth’s core is trying to die.”

Another Alaskan glacier

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Everything on Earth, from glaciers to candy bars, exists as a function of energy storage and transformation.

When I plug the computer I’m using to write this into a wall to charge, I’m connecting my computer to an electrical grid that has been carefully designed to create a difference of energy between some power plant and my house. This is called voltage, and it’s the electrical equivalent of pushing a round rock up a hill — the higher up the hill the rock goes, the more energy it can potentially use to get back down the hill by rolling. It takes energy to create voltage, and we tend to get that energy by burning fossil fuels like coal and oil, which are the long-dead and much-transformed remains of carbon-based organisms like ourselves. In short, plants and animals millions of years ago received energy from the sun and stored it within their tissues. When they died, not all of that energy was released back to space; instead, some was stored deep underground until we drilled down to pull it out.

So our cars and homes and gadgets are nearly all powered by the sun’s energy. For the last hundred or so years that has largely meant using solar energy that was stored millions of years ago, but even now, with renewable energy taking off, all the energy is still coming from the sun. Solar power, wind energy, ocean currents, and most other renewable energy sources are simply based on the idea of using solar energy received more recently. Exceptions like geothermal energy use heat from the Earth’s core, and this illustrates the two basic sources of energy on Earth — from the sun and from the core. While the land we live on was formed nearly entirely by energy from the core, nearly all the energy we use on a daily basis had its origins in the sun.

Photosynthesis is an amazing process. You and I feel the sun as heat on our skin, and it’s good for us. But we certainly can’t turn that heat into food. Plants, however, can turn solar energy into chemical energy in the form of sugars, and it’s the reason all life on Earth can exist. It’s wild to realize that not only does all the food we eat ultimately come from plants, but the air we breathe probably came from plants too. In the long-ago times 3+ billion years ago, when the first photosynthetic organisms formed, the Earth’s atmosphere contained a much higher percentage of carbon dioxide and very little, if any, oxygen. Those first microbes, using photosynthesis, combined that atmospheric CO2 with solar energy to form carbohydrates and released oxygen as a byproduct. Over hundreds of millions of years they consumed so much CO2 and released so much oxygen that enough oxygen accumulated in the atmosphere to allow other organisms to evolve that actually consumed oxygen. Because of fancy chemistry, consuming oxygen allows you to work at a much higher intensity level, and this was probably the beginning of the first animal life on Earth. So our world was created by plants and continues to be sustained by them.

If you think of a forest ecosystem, you can see an example of natural energy exchange. The sun comes up each day and provides energy for the trees and plants to use for food. There are then many transformations of that energy taking place in the forest, as animals consume seeds and flowers, and then other animals consume those first animals, and so no. With each energy transformation, some of the energy is lost into space, and eventually the forest reaches an energy equilibrium. At this point, averaged over time, the amount of energy being received by the forest each day is being released by the forest each day as well. It can be extremely complicated to truly understand, because it requires understanding the nature of photosynthesis in different organisms, the thermodynamics of heat and energy transfer, and a thorough understanding of the greenhouse effect in the upper atmosphere, but you don’t have to have a PhD to get the basic idea. Energy comes in each day, is stored and transformed, and is then released.

By contrast, when people talk about industrial energy, we’re talking about power lines and power plants and nuclear reactors and processing plants and other such activities. But when you follow the paths of all these technological uses of energy back to their sources, you will always find a natural ecosystem. That ecosystem may have existed millions of years ago, but it was a natural system nevertheless. Power plants are basically efficient ways of pulling stored energy out of natural products. All of the energy any person ever uses comes from what you could call a natural source, because it was captured from the free atmosphere and stored via the regular functioning of a natural ecosystem. So a power plant is like a middleman between the natural system where energy is stored and the modern world where humans use energy.

This is the biggest value of a renewable energy economy versus a fossil fuel economy. Although both forms of energy ultimately come from the sun, it takes far more energy and incurs a much greater environmental and social health cost to transform long-stored energy in fossil fuels than it does to simply capture the energy flowing around us all the time in forms like wind and solar. Renewable energy cuts out the middleman, in effect. And while the technology to capture renewable energy certainly has environmental impacts, especially with the need to store the energy in batteries, those impacts are much less than for fossil fuels, and the technologies are improving every day.

All of our food comes from the sun, and so does nearly all of the energy we use in our activities. What this means, of course, is that we are all expressions of this same flow of energy through the universe. We are comprised of the same energy that powers the sun and the core of the Earth and all the chemical bonds in our cars and buildings and in the trees and soils and (well, obviously) the food we eat. By the same token, weather is basically the atmosphere redistributing heat around the planet, and this drives the two most potent forms of renewable energy: wind power and solar. To really draw it all together, the sun causes weather and when that weather moves over high places like the mountains of Alaska, that weather tends to look like snowfall, and over time all that snow falling in a high and cold place like the Canwell glacier just keeps on building up until it’s a whole river of ice with one little pizza-fueled guy running up and down it trying to quantify exactly what is going on.

So, to borrow a phrase from the hippies, we are all one with the universe, dude.

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Sam and co. doing science the Alaska way

“Glaciers are always melting. This isn’t a new thing,” Sam Herreid said. “That’s just how they work.”

This is an important point. The idea of human-caused climate change has become politically and socially charged, and those of us who worry about it more or less constantly tend to see the world through climate-tinged lenses. Personally, I see climate change in the beetle-killed trees all across the Rockies, in slushy warm January days in Montana, in the forest fires consuming California each year. And nowhere do I see climate change in action more than in the world’s retreating glaciers, a phenomenon recorded in thousands of archives and which I’ve personally witnessed on trips to glaciated regions. The emotional toll of this way of thinking is immense. But an emotional approach to environmental issues only goes so far. Sam Herreid’s approach is that of a scientist — practical, honest, and curious. And it offers a way forward.

“When a glacier is flowing,” he explained, “that mass of ice is being transported away from the setting where the snowfall is accumulating and the temperatures are low enough that it’s not melting away in the summer. And so that’s why when you fly over the Kahiltna glacier [the Alaska Range’s largest], you have these long tongues of ice that stretch way out of the mountain range. Without feeding from the mountains, that ice couldn’t exist there. You need to have some source where you’re building up this mass where it’s so heavy that under its own weight it starts to flow and deform and move downvalley. And then, once it’s downvalley, it’s still ice, it still wants to deform and change phase if you put energy into the system, which is happening at these lower elevations.”

Even during the times of heavy glaciation on Earth when mile-thick ice sheets stretched into Illinois, they always eventually reached some point at which their melting rates equalled or exceeded their accumulation rates. That process is exactly the same today — glaciers melt because of the relatively simple balance of heat. It can be very complicated if you want to understand it perfectly, but we have a highly usable concept just by thinking of glaciers as forming in high and/or cold places and then flowing down into lower and/or warmer places, where they melt. This implies a line between the accumulation area (averaged over years) and the melting area (also averaged), which is referred to as the equlibrium line. In a stable climate, that line migrates very little up or down a glacier. But a moving equilibrium line can be a kind of proxy measurement for climate change.

“As long as the ice is being resupplied,” said Sam, “then you can have what we would call a glacier in equilibrium state, where it’s gaining mass and losing mass at an equal rate. And while a particle is moving through Eulerian space, like, a molecule of ice is being transported — slowly — downvalley, the geometry of the glacier will remain constant. And this is sort of a theoretical concept, but, effectively speaking, if you have a stable climate your glaciers will roughly stay the same size and shape. And so what we’re seeing basically on a global scale is that all glaciers are out of equilibrium, the melt rate is overwhelming the accumulation rate, which causes an adjustment of the shape. And that adjustment is a bit lagged. It depends on a lot of variables. Like, even if it warms up very rapidly, you’ll still have a glacier for a while. Virtually all the melt is taking place at the surface, not so much inside the glacier. And that’s a physical process that takes time, and takes energy, and is a function of how much energy is available. So it’s not immediate. If you have ten warm years, you can’t cause all of the glaciers to disappear, but if you have a climatic state that’s not preferable to glaciers, they will continue to shrink and shrink over tens to hundreds of years.”

This is what’s happening today, as a result of the climatic warming being caused by human activities. Burning fossil fuels to power our modern world increases the the thickness of the layer of gases in the atmosphere that keeps our planet warm enough for life to exist, and the effects we’re seeing are an increase in heat energy from the sun that is staying in the Earth system instead of being released back to space. From a chemical standpoint, burning fossil fuels like coal and oil is actually a very efficient process, especially when paired with things like the catalytic converter in your car that transforms nasty byproducts of combustion into simple molecules like water and carbon dioxide. Water and carbon dioxide are essential to the maintenance of life on Earth. We can only live here because of the greenhouse effect they are responsible for.

But if there’s one thing you can say for sure in all aspects of life, it’s that you can always have too much of a good thing. The problem with climate change is that we’re causing the greenhouse effect to become so pronounced that all ecosystems are changing. The climate is responding to the difference in heat received from heat emitted in the same way it always has: by trending toward a new equilibrium point. And even if that new equilibrium point turns out to be no warmer than previous hot climates (which we can’t say for certain yet), the real problem is the rapidity of the change. No organism can adapt to such swift changes in climate, because these climate changes create widespread ecosystem changes that are already transforming habitats and severely stressing resources the world over.

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Glaciology may not be the most lucrative field, but at least it’s brutally difficult

Sam Herreid is not a climate scientist. He would not characterize himself as an expert on climate change. He studies glaciers, and only peripherally focuses on the climate conditions that create or destroy them. He’s kind of like a car mechanic who understands how an engine works, but couldn’t necessarily explain how gasoline is produced. For Sam, the engine is a glacier, and the gasoline is the climate system. Of course, a good mechanic will understand which types of gasoline destroy engines, and Sam is very aware of the factors that are causing global glacial retreat. And because glaciers are one of the world’s most visual representations of current climate change, glacier experts like Sam are often thrust into the spotlight to ask for commentary. But like all good scientists, Sam speaks only of what he knows.

“I often hear people talk about the glaciers in the Alps receding and they always say how sad it is,” Sam said, referring to his time running trails there. “But that’s not how I think of it at all. I mean, I know what they mean. But I just see glaciers responding to the conditions in which they are situated, and it’s just interesting to me.”

Sam can look at a glacier and pick out the means of energy storage and transfer. He can see why a glacier formed where it did and use its topography and surface features to get a general idea of how it’s moving. With special devices and a great deal of roaming over the glacier surface, glaciologists can actually get a good idea of what the ground beneath a glacier looks like, which gives them information about how it will flow in the future. While Sam is running up and down his glacier in Alaska, he can imagine the landscape around him quivering with all kinds of forces, and his goal is to bring some of those forces within our range of comprehension.

Sam, comprehending forces

His work is specialized — he wants to be able to quantify exactly what effect the sediment covering a glacier will have on its rate of melting. He knows it’s just a small part of the puzzle. But it’s as important as any other part of the puzzle. He is one of thousands of scientists studying the Earth systems that drive our planet’s regulatory mechanisms, which information collectively has tremendous repercussions for the future of the planet. Since there’s no doubt that climate change is happening and it’s the result of human activities, the need to understand exactly how and why it’s progressing has never been greater.

This information has the potential to lead us to solutions that might mitigate the effects. The scientific perspective is as objective as anything in the human world can be. It is not a matter of pointing fingers and apportioning blame — leave that to the politicians. Instead, it’s a matter of understanding concepts like the physical energy balance in the Earth system so that each contributor can be isolated and understood. This is interesting and worthwhile for its own sake. But in the event that such work describes a global crisis — as is the case here — this information can go much further and inform solutions to the problem. If the problem is caused by more energy coming into the system than is leaving the system, then the scientists and engineers have a clear direction to move forward.

And while the engineers are working on wind turbines and the physicists are studying fuel cells and the chemists are measuring ocean layer stratification and most of us regular people are walking frantically around the grocery store wondering how we can possibly live a normal life without generating billions of tons of plastic waste every day, Sam thinks about glaciers. He runs up and down glaciers. He measures them from top to bottom, their lengths and widths, their temperatures, their compositions, their densities. He takes this information and transforms it into data and then he writes computer codes that use this data and that of thousands of other scientists around the world to create predictive models. The more information these models are able to make use of, the more exact their predictions will be. And the more exact the predictions, the more effective will be the solutions to the problems they describe. One man on a strip of ice in the far north may seem insignificant, but this man is a runner and he knows what happens if you put one small step ahead of another, stride after stride, day after day. In time, you can traverse the Earth.

You just have to not stop.

I’m a trail runner, an engineering student, and apparently a writer too!

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