Antarctica Trek Dramatizes the Dangers of Climate Change

Sebastian Copeland and Eric McNair-Landry at the South Pole. Credit: Sebastian Copeland. 

On Nov. 5, 2011, a photographer, environmentalist and adventurer named Sebastian Copeland set off from the east coast of Antarctica with his traveling partner, Eric McNair-Landry, on an almost absurdly daring and arduous journey: a two-man crossing of the entire frozen continent, on skis — towing all of their supplies behind them on sleds, at 400 lb. per man when they started. They weren’t entirely self-powered: the pair used kites to pull them along when the winds were favorable. But that hardly made the voyage easy.

It wasn’t just a stunt. The trip was, first of all, a commemoration of the first expeditions to reach the South Pole a century ago, when Roald Amundsen, then Robert Falcon Scott, clawed their way to the southernmost point on Earth. Amundsen got back safely, but Scott and his party died on the return trek.

It was also an effort to dramatize the dangers of climate change. “. . . the poles are like great receptacles of what happens remotely,” writes Copeland on his website, “and warming activities conducted thousands of miles away are impacting these fragile systems. Small fluctuations in temperatures are generally visible fastest in colder climates, where ice or snow is susceptible to melt.” It’s happening faster in the Arctic, which Copeland skied on a trek to the North Pole in 2009 — but Antarctica is starting to feel it as well, and Copeland and McNair-Landry photographed ice conditions on behalf of the National Snow and Ice Data Center along the way. Thanks to a satellite uplink, Copeland managed to blog just about every day, no matter where they were.

And they made it. On Jan. 23, 2012, 85 days after setting out, Copeland and McNair-Landry reached the continent’s east coast, having traveled some 2,600 miles, visiting both the South Pole and the Pole of Inaccessibility (the point furthest from the continent’s edge), and climbing, then descending, more than 9,000 ft.