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Steger recounts polar treks at Bioscience Conference

Worthington Middle School science teacher Tim Doeden (left) talks with featured speaker Will Steger following his Bioscience Conference presentation.1 / 2
Featured speaker Will Steger explained evidence of global warming encountered in his Antarctic expedition during the Bioscience Conference Friday.2 / 2

WORTHINGTON -- Explorer Will Steger shared stories of his Antarctic adventures Friday at the Bioscience Conference, but he also brought a more serious plea for action against global warming.

"In third grade, my first book was 'The Adventures of Huck Finn,' and that pretty much set my course," the Twin Cities native famous for his polar explorations told the crowd at Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

Steger shared his background with the group of conference attendees and Worthington Middle School Science Club students.

As a teenager, he became fascinated with exploring nature, taking a river trip from Minneapolis to New Orleans with his older brother.

"We got arrested in every town in the South; they thought we stole the boat," he remembered with a laugh. He began climbing at 16 and at 19 was offered the chance to tag along on a professional expedition.

Steger earned his bachelor's degree in geology and master's in education at the University of St. Thomas, teaching junior high school science classes for a few years before later deciding to move into the wilderness.

In 1970, he built a log cabin on property he had purchased in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and established a wilderness school there for income. That's when he came face to face with the sled dogs he would come to rely upon.

"It was dogs that really changed my life. ... Even though I moved to the wilderness to have a simpler life, it was sort of counterproductive in a way to have a dog team to feed every day for 21 years," he said. "But it was a good trade-off because I could make a living and support myself, and within four, five, six years it enabled me to build up a dog team to go to the arctic. This was my avenue that led me to the North."

Steger, who is perhaps best known for leading the first confirmed dogsled journey to the North Pole without re-supply in 1986, recalled the dangers of his many treks. Temperatures of minus 100 degrees wind chill are standard, he said, and there is often a danger of falling into crevices covered by drifting snow called ice bridges. He said the 30-minute meal break taken by explorers each day is often the most uncomfortable, as they usually stay warm by moving constantly, skiing alongside the sled instead of riding on it.

He addressed global warming, saying that while it has not affected the interior of Antarctica yet, the edges of both that continent and Greenland are in danger.

"These ice shelves have been around ... about the last 7,000 years. So the fact that they just broke up here in the last six years is quite remarkable," he said. Thawing levels in Greenland have been increasing since about 1992, and Steger showed video of ice chunks the size of multi story buildings breaking off into the ocean. "It's so violent in some cases they're recorded on the (Richter) scale," he said.

"What we should be concerned with here is the sea level rise. The goal here is to cut the carbon emissions down while at the same time growing our economy" Steger said, emphasizing the need for energy independence.

Scientific opinion on global warming -- the increase in the average temperature of the Earth's near-surface air and the oceans -- has shifted in the last three years, Steger said, and those who argue against it are now in the minority. And despite what he called billion-dollar campaigns of misinformation on the subject, he's still hopeful for a solution.

Scientific theories take awhile to develop, after all.

"The science is in 92 percent that we're radically changing the planet. And (the theory of) gravity isn't even 100 percent yet," he said.

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