From Research to Reality: Our Climate ChallengeFrom Research to Reality: Our Climate Challenge

Posted

August 10, 2017

6 min read
Words: Helene Ravlich
Photos: Daniel Price

Raised in London and based in New Zealand, Daniel Price is a scientist and environmentalist whose life’s work has been studying and researching climate change as it happens. He also finds the time to make inspiring short films and is one half of Offcut Caps, a business raising awareness around the issue of waste in the global fashion industry.

Tell us how you ended up in the position you are IN today…

I did an undergraduate degree in Oceanography back in the UK, and then completed a PhD in Antarctic Studies at the University of Canterbury here in New Zealand. I ended up studying a lot of paleoclimatology, looking at the climate history of the planet. It gave me a perspective on what’s happening now and why it’s so dangerous.

When did you first travel to the Antarctic?

2011, returning again in 2013 and 2014.

01
  1. Crossing the sea ice on skidoo and sled. The near 4000m volcano, Mt Erebus dominates the skyline.

There is no way to prepare you for that first landing; it’s the closest you get to leaving the planet.”

After spending so many years studying the area, what were your first impressions when you finally got to lay eyes on the place?

There is no way to prepare you for that first landing; it’s the closest you get to leaving the planet. It’s a 5 ½ hour flight from Christchurch, and after only a few hours, you look out the window and the sea begins to turn to ice. I was in the cockpit talking to the pilot the first time I saw it and it was pretty powerful. You land, the aircraft door opens, that cold air hits you in the face and you’re in maximum adventure mode from then on in.

02
  1. Speaking to students in Beijing about the climate system.
Weddell Seal
03
  1. A Weddell seal bathes in the midnight sun.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced there, just trying to get things done?

Well the Antarctic is the highest, driest, windiest, coldest continent on Earth. The cold is constantly your adversary. The first couple of times I traveled there I was working out of Scott Base, doing 16 hour days out in the field and traveling on skidoo and sleds. If the weather turns it can be pretty intense and work just becomes too difficult. Even in summer the thing that really gets you is the wind – when it gets up to gale force you’re looking at minus 40 or 50 degrees(104℉ or 122℉) wind chill. My hands have definitely taken a battering over the years for sure.

You’re a bit of an adventurer and experienced mountaineer and skier anyway, but did you have to prepare physically for travelling to Antarctica?

Not really. It depends what you’re doing, as there is a huge amount of science going on down there in very different locations. You have to pass medical tests and I tried to get as fit and strong as I could just because there is a lot of physical work to be done.

You have delivered a TEDx talk on climate change and co-directed a short film on the subject. When you travel to the Antarctic region and see the effects of climate change in action are you ever tempted to just throw in the towel?

Oh yeah, all the time. But the unacceptable consequence of inaction constantly motivates you to push the message. Giving up simply isn’t an option. What really tells us what is happening is data being sent back by this incredible network of satellites globally and the teams behind them assessing what is occurring in real time. It is graphs telling the story rather than dramatic scenes of ice falling down around us. These satellites, along with instruments all over the world are constantly keeping an eye on Earth, and looking out for changes that might have implications for us. We are trying to map the thickness of sea ice, the seasonal frozen blanket that covers the Southern Ocean. Its formation and melt drive ocean currents all around the world and its bright surface changes the reflectivity of the entire planet!

Watch Dan's TEDx Talk, Climate Change: More Than Numbers here. View the trailer to Thirty Million, a short film co directed by Dan here.

“The climate change denialist movement is dangerous for everyone – it’s an attack on the planet and on science.”

Antarctic continent
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  1. Off the frozen ocean and setting foot on the Antarctic continent.
The Ross Ice Shelf
05
  1. Travelling to survey site at 2am. The Ross Ice Shelf in continuing to the horizon, and then for another 500km.
06
  1. The sleds that carry us and our instruments. We typically travel 50 kilometers a day.
behind the skidoo
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  1. A local resident has a noisy. It's blowing about 40 knots here, that's why we're taking cover behind the skidoo.
Preparing to drill through the sea
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  1. Preparing to drill through the sea ice in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica.

“It’s like you leave the plane (in Antarctica) and are in maximum adventure mode from then on in.”

drill hole
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  1. The ocean below spews up through the drill hole.
What do you say to someone like me who is personally distressed by the situation, but unsure where to start?

Learn it, and then speak it – once you understand this problem you can’t really walk away from it. Try and learn a little about it, a lot of it is really interesting stuff! Crack out some of those facts over your next beer with your mates, or over the next family meal. The denialist movement is dangerous for everyone – an attack on the planet and on science. Next up, look at your diet. Global meat consumption is unsustainable. It is a big contributor to climate change and you really can do something about it by eating less meat. On a financial level, you can contact your bank and ask about what they are investing in. You can divest your money and support banking that doesn’t support big fossil fuel projects like coal mines and oil fields and go for one that has renewable energy interests.For more information about Fossil Free Banks, click here.

Last up, vote! You have the power to elect a government that will do something about this issue. Use that power.

And finally, you work with it every day, so what does nature mean to you?

It is the foundation of everything, and people in urban environments can get so disconnected from that. I grew up in London but traveled to Wales a lot to spend time with family, and had a connection to the natural world from a young age. Nature is everything, and supports us completely. We aren’t disconnected from it; we are intrinsically a part of it. The more people that realize that, the better off we’ll be.

to validate a satellite
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  1. All you need to validate a satellite. A drill, spade and a tape measure.
Adelie penguins
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  1. Adelie penguins.