Snow crystals sting my face and coat my beard and the ruff of my parka. As the wind rises, it becomes difficult to see my five companions through the blowing snow. We are 500 miles into a 750-mile snowmobile trip across Arctic Alaska. We have come, in the late winter of 2002, to measure the thickness of the snow cover and estimate its insulating capacity, an important factor in maintaining the thermal balance of the permafrost. I have called a momentary halt to decide what to do. The rising wind, combined with -30 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, makes it clear we need to find shelter, and fast. I put my face against the hood of my nearest companion and shout: "Make sure everyone stays close together. We have to get off this exposed ridge."
At the time, the irony that we might freeze to death while looking for evidence of global warming was lost on me, but later, snug in our tents, I began to laugh at how incongruous that would have been. --Matthew Sturm
This article was originally published with the title Meltdown in the North.