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Navigating the New Arctic: Dr. France Córdova Presentation | Interactive 2019 | SXSW

Navigating the New Arctic: Dr. France Córdova Presentation | Interactive 2019 | SXSW


I have the privilege of talking about navigating the new Arctic – why the Arctic matters and
why we’re doing research there. So while you’re layering up for our Arctic trip, I want to
take a moment to go back to my childhood. I was born and raised in France, hence my
name France, France Cordova. And um, I, my grandparents lived in New York City. So I’d
go on ocean liners with my brothers and sisters because that was the time before plane flight
was so cheap and accessible and we’d go on the Queen Mary or the RMS, Queen Elizabeth
back and forth across the ocean to visit New York City and on those boat trips side look
out in the night sky. And I’d see a scene that looked much like this and I’d be so impressed
and odd by the mystery of the ocean and the stars. And I’d wonder as the stars moved through
the night where, where they went and I thought maybe they went into the ocean and I wondered
if that was what was at the bottom of the ocean where the stars, well I grew up to be
an astrophysicist, I think not an oceanographer because the stars don’t make you sea sick
and I, I didn’t realize of course at the time that I would grow up to lead an amazing institution
like the National Science Foundation. The National Science Foundation has facilities
stations at both, um, the in the Arctic and the Antarctic. And that’s shown here on this
slide. And I wanted to have a little bit of Antarctica here just so we could all appreciate
the difference between, uh, the two poles. So on your right is our South Pole station.
Yes. The National Science Foundation runs the U S Antarctica program and we have the
only facility at the South Pole. And you can land a plane there and you can sleep overnight
and be nice and warm and you can eat and you can do your research. Indeed, we have huge
facilities to study. The, the Big Bang, the origin of cosmic rays and um, all, all sorts
of amazing things that one can only do in an extreme polar environment. Uh, that it
is much, much different environment because it’s the land mass with a lot of snow and
ice on top of it than the Arctic, which is an ocean.
We don’t have a landmass under the North Pole, but we do have landmasses all around it. I
also didn’t appreciate at the time that I was looking out over the ocean stars, this
young person, that one day I would be at an agency would dispose a thousand people to
each of the Poles explores that would be doing research in extreme environments and have
oversight for 20 vessels around the world. A number of which are doing polar exploration.
So here’s a picture of me at the summit in Greenland. And yes, Greenland is a landmass,
but it’s not at the North Pole of course. And we can fly a plane onto the summit, launching
a weather balloon. We have explorers all over the Arctic and all over the Antarctic. And
I hope by the end of this presentation that if you’re looking for something really exciting
to do, that you may take up the desire to come and help us explore our polar regions.
Well, let’s take a look at what we’ll be visiting. This is a, of course, the map of the Arctic
circle in the middle of their lit up and it surrounds this, um, the Arctic Ocean. So I
just showed you a slide from Greenland, most of which is in the Arctic circle. Uh, who,
who knows what defines the Arctic Circle? What latitude is the circle at anybody here?
Yes. So we’re here. Yeah, exactly. 66 degrees because of the tilt of the pole towards the
Sun. And this is the line, um, uh, inside of which you have a midnight sun all summer
long. And uh, and um, and no sun all winter long. So it’s where the sun skirts the horizon
on June 21st and December 21st. So there are eight Arctic nations and a Denmark. Uh, it
is one, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, long segment of Russia, of course, the United
States. And, uh, and Canada, my furthest point north, uh, has been, uh, just north of small
barred in an ocean ship. Has anybody been a up there in the Arctic
Circle? Great. Great. So I’d love to hear after the talks some of your own impressions
and memories of this. So what’s happening in the Arctic now with all the changes going
on is not staying in the Arctic. It’s really affecting the entire planet. The warming that
is going on there is twice as fast as the rest of the planet. And because it’s such
a vast area that’s really affecting the whole feedback cycle of the climate around the planet.
So there are tremendous changes going on. We’re going to explore some of them and how
we know that there are changes happening. So I said that there were eight Arctic nations.
This is the second science ministerial for the Arctic. It was held just this past October
in Berlin. Why are there more than h nations represented here with their ministers, ministers
and people like me, I was head of US delegation because we, we don’t have ministers in our
country. Um, and so I’m sitting right underneath the
slide there and the minister of Iceland is sitting with her back towards you in the pink
there, there were, are about 26 observer nations because they really care about what’s happening
in the Arctic because it affects their sea coasts. It affects their a fisheries, it affects
their shipping, uh, between oceans. It affects tourism, and it of course affects their climate.
So there’s a tremendous amount of interest in what’s going on in the Arctic. And we all
agreed to work together to understand it better. Also represented at this table are six indigenous
nations, and those are the populations of people who live in the Arctic. And the Antarctic
is the only place where there are not native peoples, but there are many, many native peoples
in the Arctic. And so we’re also concerned about how the changes are affecting them.
So there were three goals of the Arctic Science, uh, ministerial. All the ministers coming
together to represent their country. One of the goals is that we do more and better observations
of the Arctic. Another goal is that we start sharing all the big data that we’re collecting.
And I’m going to talk a lot about big data. In fact, I could have titled My talk a Ai
and the new Arctic because it’s, we’re certainly collecting a lot of data that we’re going
to need to be sharing in order to understand it better. And the third goal is to share
our research infrastructure. We have a lot of tools and I’ll show you some of those tools,
which we haven’t had until very recently that can explore much faster and better with more
precision of the Arctic. So we can know a lot more about it.
So this slide shows why we are, we have concerns about what’s, what’s happening there and see
shows in animation, some of the changes that are happening. You see here, uh, the, uh,
the Atlantic Ocean currents are going up into the Arctic Ocean and this is a current map,
but it’s also a temperature map and chose the warm seas of the Atlantic and how they
are infiltrating the Arctic Ocean and what their motion is around the Arctic. So they
are literally melting ice that because of the warm currents that are coming up from
the Atlantic. Now this is a simulation based on data from, uh, that’s what’s done at ut
Austin with their super computed there, which NSF also funds. And we’ll hear a little bit
more about supercomputers and what they’re doing here. But I thought it was just a beautiful
animation that gives us a real picture of what is happening in the Arctic.
So yes, thank you to those researchers at ut Austin. Now, most of what we know about
the Arctic was done, uh, until recently by the Arctic explorers and, and our own people
that the agencies would send their under very harsh conditions, but they were more stable
conditions there. The change was not happening very fast in the Arctic. So we could actually
land planes, small planes, twin otters and remote sites like the Twin Otter that brought
me to the summit of Greenland. And uh, and uh, people could stay and a little made up
a environments, tents and, and, uh, [inaudible] glue type environments and do a lot of measurements.
All of that has really changed tremendously because the Arctic is changing so fast it
doesn’t represent a stable platform anymore. So this is the reason why the National Science
Foundation, when we put together a strategy for investment and we wanted to tell the public
where we were going and what’s important to do, why the Arctic became one of our big challenges
that we identified. We identified 10 big ideas. We called them
to represent the major challenges that our country, the U s was facing. They also turned
out to be major challenges that a lot of countries are facing. One, uh, a six of them were research
challenges and one of those is how to navigate the Arctic, which is changing so rapidly.
And uh, some of them were enabling, uh, challenges or ideas like convergence, which are represented
on the side panels. There. We realized that in order to really make use of the uh, the,
uh, the data we were collecting and to, to meet the, uh, the challenges that we had before
us, that it was going to take a lot more than just specialists who studied traditionally
the Arctic to your specialist, explore doing some geoscience there. It was going to take
physicists and biologists and even linguists because we have so many nations now working
there and economists and definitely computer scientist.
And so we now have a different approach of getting together people from all disciplines
on multidiscipline and multidisciplinary ways. And I’ll show you a couple of examples from,
from ships to telepresence types of environments where all these people come together to uh,
to meet this challenge and to produce new data on the Arctic. On the left hand side
we see some students who are coming from different countries in order to explore the Arctic and
two D do drilling there. So it’s really the convergence of disciplines, I think plus a
big data that is making a tremendous difference in increasing our knowledge about the Arctic.
This shy a slide is a very, uh, as a good example of this. You didn’t actually have
to put on those extra layers to come to our exploring this afternoon with me up in the
Arctic because he could have stayed right here in Austin and done just as much.
Here is an example from the University of Rhode Island. Have a lot of different uh,
uh, disciplinary folks all gathered here together talking with people who are on the research
vessel Atlantis very far away about how to do the sea floor mapping that thereafter,
after pulling together their ideas, doing their strategies about what kind of mapping
would succeed and these are the environments that we increasingly find ourselves in that
what telepresence. Now we can talk with researchers on the ship. We don’t have to go and be there
ourselves and we can get and give some very good information. We also have really amazing
tools that we didn’t have before, which can go to places that people can’t get to. And
this is an example of three of them. The one on the top right is a glider that you can
see. It’s about six feet tall. And if you come to our booth in the exhibition
hall, you can see an example of one and two. It just swims like a fish with these extended
fins that, um, uh, go out and it can get underneath, uh, glaciers just at their edges, of course,
and where the sea meets the eyes and go into environments where you wouldn’t send any human
being. And it can go for a very long distance. In fact, I know that one, uh, the one that’s
probably gone the furthest one from New Jersey to Spain, so they can cover a lot of territory
and they can send signals back to satellites, which then sends signals to feel stations.
Then we have floaters that you see on the left, and there are just thousands of floaters
being a disposed into the sea. And they can go down to different levels and they measure
things like ocean temperature and salinity and gasses that are trapped in a, the ocean
molecules and the Ph level, um, much of the chemistry of the oceans at different levels.
And they too have different ways of conveying their, uh, data, uh, back to researchers.
And then little handheld devices called drifters that we can just spread out, uh, like little,
um, of bottles with messages in them, only these have electronics in them that can take
a lot of data. So technology is really making a difference and giving us a much wider field
of what we can examine. And then of course, there’s a big data represented here, uh, in,
um, in the quantum sense in a very old fashioned ways with ones and Zeros. Um, big data is
really, uh, is, is the key to understanding more about the Arctic. And I want to give
you two examples of where we’ve been pooling our data so that researchers can make more
discoveries. One example is called rolling deck to repository. And that’s a huge database
that has been collected from 48 research vessels that have done, uh, that have the data for
more than 7,000 research cruises. They have had over 9 million downloads into
this repository. And what they’re trying to do obviously is put together all the data
that’s been collected from research vessels and cruises in an open, accessible way so
that researchers like you possibly can dive into those data and, and see what, uh, what
exists and perhaps make a discovery. And another example is called Arctic dem. And this is
the result of the Arctic dem program. It’s, um, it’s a collaboration between the national
geospatial intelligence agency. So that’s the Department of Defense and the National
Science Foundation. And what they’d done is taken satellite data. These are satellites
from the Department of Defense, the take images, very high resolution images, which sometimes
have resolutions of a half meter and they’ve made two meter resolution maps of both the
Arctic and the Antarctic. Uh, so that you can really pick out features and you can see
over time how they’re changing. You can do a vast amount of, uh, of ecology and understanding
where to go and make your measurements and shipping everything from such high resolution
maps. When these first came out, uh, these, these
three d maps at the New York Times had a headline that was like putting glasses on for the first
time and being able to see a 20, 20 made that much of a difference before we had these maps.
And they just came out a year or two ago. Uh, we had less of an understanding about
the typography of the Arctic than we did about the moon or Mars because there we had taken
space missions and done careful Mapi. So it’s made a tremendous difference. And so it’s
an example of working in partnerships among the agencies that defense satellites than
liberating their data, unleashing their data. And then, uh, the National Science Foundation
funding people to put that together and do the correlation techniques where you put the
maps on top of each other and you get the, the stereoscopic imaging that you need to
make a map like this that is making an incredible difference.
And then if, uh, if telepresence is not your thing and um, and doing a sitting at a computer
center is also a nodded and uh, then you, you might just be the kind of explore that
really wants to go spend one year, uh, out in a, in a ship and be literally stuck in
the ice and doing measurements there. And this is an example, in fact, it’s the first
example of its kind, uh, of doing just that. This is the ship, uh, called the polar stern.
It’s a German vessel and it will set sail in September of this year. So there’s maybe
still time for you and uh, it will carry 600 people, all researchers from 17 different
countries. And those, those folks will be, uh, literally trapped in the, in the ice because
what, whatever way that, the whole idea is to have that almost like a space station isn’t
space where you just, um, your, you’re on when you’re on it, you’re on it.
Now they will have some icebreakers come a couple of times, two or three times during
those 350 days throughout there and relieve some of the people, the crew, it’s specially
and some of the researchers and put other researchers on. But the whole idea is to make
institute measurements that are the first of its kind. Imagine doing a whole year’s
worth of data right there on the spot. The boat, we’ll of course drift. It drifts like
about seven kilometers per day or so. It will cover and total just because of the currents
currents that I showed you earlier, something like 2,500 kilometers and come within 200
kilometers of the North Pole itself. So this is yet another way of getting that great data
that really feeds our understanding of what’s going on in the Arctic.
This little girl is, some goes back to my childhood when I wanted to grow up to be Nancy
drew a detective, read all her books and I just thought solving mysteries was the best
thing that one could do. And we have so many mysteries and that’s what the National Science
Foundation does, is tries to, to solve mysteries by finding the people who want to go after
them, who want to be detectives sciences. Our tool for solving mysteries and the Arctic
is presents one of the greatest mysteries of all because it’s changing so fast and um,
because that change matters for the entire planet that we really need to understand the
better we do this. As I was mentioning in partnerships with other agencies, I talked
about our partnerships with other countries through vehicles like the science ministerials
that we have, the one of the best partners that we have for exploring the Arctic or the
indigenous peoples themselves. They’ve been there for hundreds of years.
They have seen it all. They have an understanding because they commune with nature in a way
that we possibly don’t. Uh, because some of us live in cities where you can’t see the
stars at night and the only thing that grows screen is that potted plant in your apartment.
And they, they understand why the Caribou is, are migrating in different ways. They
understand why it’s so hard to do Wally now because as the, um, the, the ice melts you
in order to do well and you have to drag a whale as soon as you kill it, you have to
literally drag it up on an ice flow and then cut it all up and put it on ships and bring
it back home. If there isn’t an ice flow that’s thick enough to carry that whale, then that,
then you can’t do that. So they have to go to do their wailing where
those ice floes are. They know they have a lot of knowledge which they want to share
with us and they want us to appreciate that. In understanding the Arctic, it’s all about
coal producing the knowledge. It’s not just about us with our, uh, nice technology, our
equipment, um, understanding more about the Arctic, but it’s also talking with them and
gaining their insights, uh, and working together. And so a lot of our programs are directed
towards working with indigenous people and also our education programs as well because
we funded a lot of k through 12 and college and graduate school programs. And when I’ve
been to the Arctic, like to Alaska, I’ve seen a lot of our education and outreach programs
and I guarantee you that a lot of the native children will grow up to be scientists and
engineers and their focus will be on the Arctic. So the, the Arctic is changing so much that
it means that we can all be explorers and get around there in a way that hasn’t been
possible for eons. This is an example of a, a ship, a Russian tanker that broke through,
uh, an area of the Arctic where no ship had ever gone unaided before. That is along the
Russian coastline. Few, remember the picture I showed you earlier along the, uh, the northern
sea passage and cut a line all the way between the oceans from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic
Ocean. And this is real. This was just done in 2017. So, so things are changing fast enough
for, uh, for this kind of shipping to be realized. And they said that it was 30% faster than
going through one of the other shipping lanes, like through the Suez or the Panama Canal.
So, so things are incredibly changing. In 2015, a ice breaker that, um, is owned
by our us coast guard went to the North Pole and it carried 145 researchers funded by the
National Science Foundation. And they did, uh, there geochemistry measurements at the
North Pole. That was just a few years ago in 2015 it had that kind of a voyage had never
been done before on assistant. So the ways of getting around there are just amazing that
obviously there are challenges, there are challenges with adapting to such a changing
environment, challenges deeply felt by the people who live there. There are also opportunities
and we want to explore the opportunities as well as the challenges. So I ended my talk
where I began, which is looking at the connection between the sea and the heavens here, uh,
is of course the phenomenon that all of us want to see some time in our lifetime. The
Aurora borealis. When, when I was young guy, this was a mystery to me.
Now that I have my physics degree, I understand what causes that, but it is no less mysterious
and magnificent that we can look up and we can see such a thing. And that’s really the
point of science and research is that we address mysteries. We want to be like detectives and
solve them. We want to use the best tools we have. We want to work with all the people
who also love that stuff and engage with them in order to, uh, to explore and to understand.
But it doesn’t make the world, it doesn’t make the oceans. It doesn’t make the heavens
any less mysterious, any less beautiful to do. So thank you very much.

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