Taking a Wide Look at Changes at the Poles


Story posted January 27, 2009

Environmental changes caused by the warming at the poles is occurring at a scale and rate virtually unknown by any single generation. What do those changes bode for the environmental, cultural and geopolitical landscape at the poles? What does climate change have in store for the rest of the globe?

Over the Spring 2009 semester, Bowdoin College faculty are presenting "Polar Extremes: Changes in a Warming World," a series of public lectures, film screenings, exhibitions and symposia investigating these and other environmental issues. Bowdoin faculty members as well as polar experts from Bowdoin's Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center will present current research and invite to campus scientists and scholars of international reputation.

Spring 2009 Events

Scientist Susan Solomon, who first identified the ozone hole, will speak at Bowdoin Feb. 12th and 13th.

View the schedule of public events connected with Polar Extremes during the Spring 2009 semester.


Among those participating in the series is National Medal of Science Laureate Susan Solomon, who will deliver the Kibbe Science Lecture: "A World of Change: Climate Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow," on February 12, 2009 (see full schedule of events). Solomon was among the first scientists to identify the cause of the ozone hole.

"A major impetus for this series is the 100th anniversary of Robert E. Peary's attainment of the North Pole on April 6, 1909," notes Rusack Associate Professor of Biology Philip Camill, director of Bowdoin's Environmental Studies Program.

"Bowdoin is able to tell the story of the Arctic in a way that other places can't because of the resources of our Peary-MacMillan Museum and Arctic Studies program. This series lends an interdisciplinary perspective on the history and future of the poles, building on a wide frame of Bowdoin faculty expertise on climate change, environmental justice, anthropology and political science."

Peary greeting.jpg
Robert E. Peary greeting crowds in Sydney, Nova Scotia, upon his return from the North Pole.

A century of polar exploration has generated more than a few iconic voyages and figures—chief among them, Robert E. Peary (Bowdoin Class of 1877). New scholarship on Peary's life and times is the focus of the April 4, 2009, symposium "Peary's Quest for the Pole: A Symposium Commemorating the Attainment of the North Pole 100 Years Ago."

"We're trying to put Peary into the broader context of what was happening in the international arena and at home to make him such a prominent figure," says Arctic Museum Director Susan Kaplan. "There is a lot of new research by anthropologists and historians who are looking at his relationships with people in the United States and in the field. This research is helping us place his work in a broader historical, political and cultural context."

Other explorers to be highlighted include British Naval Officer Robert Scott, who perished after reaching the South Pole in 1912, and American Naval Medical Officer Elisha Kent Kane, who paved the way for the wave of Arctic exploration by Peary and others.

Climate Day Celebration
ocean view

Bowdoin community engagement in climate-change activism will be showcased on April 9, 2009, Climate Day. Among the planned activities is a day-long Bowdoin Climate Fair and Symposium in Smith Union, which will include top proposals by Bowdoin faculty, students and staff for helping Bowdoin achieve carbon neutrality. Additionally, environmental justice advocate Majora Carter will discuss “green” jobs in a ”green” economy at a 12:30 p.m. Common Hour Lecture at Pickard Theater on April 10. Common Hour is open to Bowdoin community members only.


Increased Arctic access caused by the melting of the polar ice cap raises a host of economic and geopolitical issues. Visiting Assistant Professor of Government and Legal Studies Olya Gayazova will analyze some of these changes in a public talk, "Who Owns the Arctic?" on February 19, 2009.

The science of global warming will be explored from a multidisciplinary perspective among Bowdoin faculty members—several of whom are experts on climate change. On Feb. 26, 2009, Camill will discuss the current state of environmental changes happening at both poles with Associate Professor of Physics Mark Battle. Battle's highly cited research on atmospheric composition has taken him several times to Antarctica to analyze levels of carbon in core samples taken from the snow pack. Camill is a leading expert on the effect of climate change on northern peatland and boreal forests in the Canadian arctic.

"We want to tell the story of how the Arctic is changing from as many perspectives as possible," says Camill. "It is one of the great moral and ethical issues of our time."

"Clearly, the Arctic is becoming more important," agrees Gayazova, who is a Russian national. "Soon we will need a lot of specialists who know the Arctic from many different angles. Bowdoin is nicely positioned as an institution that can produce people who are well-versed in Arctic studies."


« Back | Campus News | Academic Spotlight | | Subscribe to Bowdoin News by Email