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    February 08, 2012 | 12:08 PM

    A personal commitment

    Zee Evans, National Science Foundation

    The long voyage back through the Drake Passage was our first opportunity to reflect upon the journey we have just undertaken. While our outbound crossing had been deceptively smooth, this time the Drake revealed its true nature, with swells rising over 25 feet.

    It feels fitting to be going through this crucible upon our return. Together, we have come to the bottom of the earth to witness the majesty of Antarctica -- as well as the threat to it. We came as strangers, to a land so foreign to our day-to-day existence that it seemed dreamlike and otherworldly.

    Laura Hamilton, National Science Foundation

    Yet as the days went on and we traversed deeper toward the continent, we experienced this white world with all our senses – the endless trilling sound of the penguin colonies, the musky smell of the sea lions, the glowing blue light of the glaciers, the sharp slap of icy snow on our faces. And as we did, this foreign place became more real to us. As did its stark and precise balance, a symbiosis between the place and the life it supports. A shift of the smallest proportion can set in motion a chain of events with dire consequences. And so it has.

    The scientists who have been returning here year after year could see what we could not: That this is not the same Antarctica they first came to study and to know. Entire glaciers droop and sag toward the sea, like pancake batter slowly spilling from a bowl. Animal populations are under stress, as the balance that has sustained them for millennia slowly slips out of joint.

    Jeffrey Kietzmann, National Science Foundation

    And so we return transformed. Both euphoric with the stunning majesty of the place, and moved by the threat to it, and what this threat represents for all inhabitants of planet earth. Having come here, we will always carry the majesty of Antarctica with us, and now we also carry a commitment: to protect this stunning place, this planet, this home of ours.

    Meeting the climate challenge is our collective responsibility. There is no room within this challenge for politics, or finger pointing. Because if we do not act, there will be no winners. What we stand to lose belongs to all of us.

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