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ANARKY Talk: "Considering Myself in the Bosom of the Arctic: What have Corsets got to do with Climate Change?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017 - 12:00pm
Earth Sciences 859

Matthew Ayer (Postdoctoral Fellow) Arctic institute of North America. 

Climate change is the largest challenge facing humanity, and the Arctic is the canary in the mine. For nearly 40 years we have witnessed a near continual and increasing downward trend in the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice. Sea ice not only harbours unique ecosystems and communities, it plays a vital role in the Earth’s climate system, helping to drive ocean circulation and regulate incoming solar radiation. Changes in the Arctic affect the rest of the world. To forecast the future of this rapidly changing Arctic, it is necessary to put these observations into a longer-term context. Proxy records help extend the sea ice record back millennia but do not have the resolution to capture change on the timescales witnessed today. It is by the very nature of the climate in the Arctic that few historical observations exist with which to look back into its history. However, there exists a unique collection of documents with which to extend
observations of Arctic sea ice back into the 18th and 19th century – the logbooks of Arctic whaling vessels. The Arctic whaling trade, based predominantly around the exploitation of the Bowhead whale, was undertaken through a period of over 300 years and came close to causing the extinction of the Arctic’s largest marine mammal. It was prosecuted for the procurement of blubber and whalebone. The former, rendered down into oil, lit, lubricated and cleaned the march of the industrial revolution – while the latter was the literal mainstay of high society. The manner and methods involved in the execution of this trade make the rare extant documents invaluable to furthering our understanding of the Arctic’s past.