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When I wrote the “Live from the Poles” proposal with the WHOI Director of Communications, this was our justification and plan for the embedded media team:
“Insightful writing and compelling images are the heart of every successful publication. The core of this project is support for a professional science writer and field photographer to join each expedition. Scientists are frequently working around the clock when in the field, and have little time to describe their fieldwork with written dispatches and photography. They also cannot be expected to have the training required to produce professional photographs and video clips. To ensure that the groundbreaking research conducted during this historical period [International Polar Year] is properly documented, support for the writer/photographer team is critical to this proposal. The team will be responsible for filing daily dispatches including science updates, logistical challenges, team member profiles, and life at sea (or on the ice). The team will also coordinate real-time phone patches from PIs [Principal Investigators] in the field to museum audiences, National Public Radio stations, Scholastic magazine, and manage student Q&As with scientists. An experienced shore-based team at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) will manage Web updates from the field, and prepare publication of photo essays and articles in Oceanus magazine, which receives 30,000 visits online each month.”
To summarize, we were cognizant of the lack of quality photographs coming out of scientific expeditions and saw an opportunity to assemble a professional team to tell visual stories from the field. The trick was to do it daily from some of the most remote places in the world.
So why photograph science fieldwork? There has never been a more important time to understand how our planet works. Glaciers and Arctic pack ice are shrinking at an unprecedented rate. Rising temperatures are causing profound shifts in ecosystems. In the October issue of Scientific American, John Holdren, a Harvard physicist and President-elect Obama’s White House science adviser, wrote that “the ongoing disruption of the earth’s climate by man-made greenhouse gases is already well beyond dangerous and is careening toward completely unmanageable.” According to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, a consensus of the world’s scientific experts, we (human beings) are causing unprecedented changes to our climate.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a doom and gloom kind of guy. Despite the challenges that rising global temperatures will present in the coming years, I believe in human ingenuity and resilience. And scientists are out there in some of the harshest places on our planet, like the Greenland Ice Sheet and Antarctica, collecting data on past and present changes so we can better predict future conditions.
I’m an idealist; I see science as a noble, selfless profession. By photographing scientists in the field, I am hoping to communicate a deeper understanding and respect for the scientific process and profession, and to urge people to use scientific knowledge of the world to help sustain it.