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Earth Sense: Ice plays vital role in Arctic waters

POSTED: February 21, 2016 12:23 a.m.

Dancing on ice is an art we admire at skating events. Much less common is dancing on Arctic ice — that is, the frozen layer covering the Arctic Sea and the North Pole.

Jody Sperling, artistic director of “Time Lapse Dance,” will tell the story of her journey to the frozen ocean at 1 p.m. Friday in Brenau Downtown Center’s Theatre on the Square.

“I had the unique opportunity to participate in a polar science mission to the Chukchi Sea, which is north of the Bering Strait, beyond the Arctic Circle,” she said. “This was the first time ever that a choreographer-in-residence traveled aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy.”

Sperling performed a dozen dances in sub-freezing temperatures, which will be shown in the short movie “Ice Floe” during the event. The movie won second prize by Human Impact Institute’s Creative Climate Awards.

Although the technique and challenges of dancing on ice will be included in the panel discussion during the Friday event, Sperling’s main motivation is to draw attention to the plight of Arctic sea ice. The ice cap on the North Pole is often misunderstood. It’s not a gigantic set of continental glaciers, thousands of feet high, as you would find on the South Pole.

The North Pole is an ocean area. Only a thin skin of frozen water covers it to a thickness of just 15 feet or less. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports near-record minimums for Arctic sea ice since 2002, with a steady decline of extent and thickness since the 1980s. Some may be quick to blame human-induced climatic change but natural fluctuations occur as well.

Regardless of who or what is to blame, the sea ice plays an important role in regulating the world’s climates.

Because it has a high albedo, or reflectivity, it keeps the Arctic cool and moderates temperatures farther south.

With less ice to repel sunlight, the pace of overall warming increases. This, in turn, leads to higher ocean levels.

Rising sea levels impact hundreds of coastal towns directly, making them more vulnerable to storm floods.

One needs to think only of Savannah, Brunswick and St. Simons Island to foresee the effects. Higher tides accelerate beach erosion and endanger shoreline property. These aspects and more will come up in Sperling’s event, together with a beautiful showing of her artistic performance as she dances on Arctic ice.
 
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.



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