(CNN) – Camille Seaman did not need the UN report on Monday to know that the Earth is warming at a dizzying rate.
You have seen it with your own eyes.
The photographer He has been visiting Antarctica on and off since 2004, working on expedition ships for companies like National Geographic and Hurtigruten. In the last few years alone, it has witnessed a remarkable change on the continent.
“What I’ve seen from 2016 to now, it’s like a totally different place,” he said.
Seaman points to the algae in the snow he has photographed, which often turns the snow pink and sometimes green.
“It’s normal. It’s not unusual,” he says. “But what’s unusual is that I’ve never seen them before March blooming on glaciers. And now they show up in January and December. That’s like three months earlier.”
“And there are places where I’ve never, never seen the ground. It was always covered in snow. And now it’s just mud and rocks.”
The white landscape is no longer so white.
Last year, Antarctica recorded a record temperature of 18.3 ° C. Petteri Taalas, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization, said that the record is “consistent with the climate change that we are observing” and pointed out that the Antarctic peninsula – the extreme northwest near South America – is among the fastest warming regions of the world. planet.
The WMO states that temperatures on the peninsula have risen by almost 3 ° C in the last 50 years. This has led to increased snowmelt, which raises global sea levels and threatens coastal cities around the world.
It is one of the many problems listed in the status report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Monday. Scientists say the planet is warming faster than previously thought and the timeframe for reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and avoiding catastrophic results is fast closing.
The melting of the polar regions is also having a troubling effect on some of the fauna and flora that call those places home.
Chinstrap penguin colonies in some areas of Antarctica have decreased more than 75% in the last half century, according to independent researchers who joined a Greenpeace expedition to the region before the pandemic. They believe climate change is largely to blame, as declining sea ice and warming oceans have reduced the krill that many penguins depend on for food.
“Phytoplankton flourish at the bottom of the sea ice, and that’s what krill feed on,” Seaman explained. “And then the penguins feed on the krill, the whales feed on the krill, the seals and the sea lions feed on the krill. So there is an incredible knock-on effect. If the sea ice is lost, the phytoplankton is lost. If you lose the phytoplankton, you start to lose the krill, and there is a knock-on effect. “
Higher temperatures can also be difficult for cold-weather penguins, especially chicks, Seaman said.
He remembers being on Paulet Island in Antarctica when it was about 15 degrees Celsius last year. He photographed a baby Adelie penguin with its tongue sticking out to cool off.
“There were thousands and thousands of these penguins in distress because they were so hot and there was no snow,” he said. “They were looking for any chunk of snow or ice to lie on.”
Some Antarctic penguin species, such as the gentoo, are more adaptable than others, Seaman said. Adelie penguins are declining in some areas of the continent and doing well in others.
Seaman was not very fond of penguins when he first visited Antarctica, but now he is looking forward to them to see what they can do next.
Seaman, who has been documenting the polar regions for years, found this week’s UN report “very disturbing, but not surprising.” Like the young climate activist Greta thunberg, is frustrated by the inaction it has seen around the world to reduce carbon emissions.
“I’m with Greta on this – we should act like our house is on fire,” Seaman said. “If you only pay attention to the news this week, with the fires in Greece and Italy and now Algeria and Oregon and California, this is not normal and is only going to get worse. This is just the beginning”.
Expect the news to wake people up.
“This week’s report is devastating, but it can be the kick that many of us need to get up and do what we need to do individually,” he said.
Seaman is even beginning to question his own travels to Antarctica and whether he can do anything else to make a difference. It has not been there since the start of the pandemic.
He hasn’t visited Svalbard, Norway in a decade. The archipelago, located between mainland Norway and the North Pole, it is home to hundreds of polar bears.
“I haven’t been back to Svalbard since 2011, partly because there was no ice and that meant the polar bears had to be on land,” he said. “And he didn’t want to be the reason we had to shoot a polar bear: just to be in his environment.”
It was around 2011 that Seaman was especially frustrated and desperate about climate change. But her 11-year-old daughter told her not to give up: “You have to try. You have to do something.”
So now he’s turning to his problem-awareness work.
“If all I know how to do is create images that can communicate emotions and information, that’s what I do,” he says.
He has also given TED talks and other speeches.
“All the time, people ask me, ‘What can I do? What can I do as an individual? And I tell them to stand up for what they love most about this planet, whether it’s the roses, the monarch butterflies, or the oak tree. His garden. Whatever, whales or polar bears. Defend him and you will see that you are not alone. That there are other people who love that thing and do not want it to be lost. “
– All photos were taken by Camille Seaman.
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