Permafrost, Permafrost, Permafrost: Local to Global Impacts of Arctic Thaw

By Faith Jarrell

Elm Staff Writer

On Tuesday, Jan. 31, Washington College hosted guest speaker Dr. Susan Natali in Litrenta Lecture Hall in the John S. Toll Science Center.

Before Dr. Natali’s speech, she was introduced by Michael Hardesty, the associate director of programs and staff at the Center for Environment and Society. 

“She is a scientist, perhaps first and foremost, but she is an advocate, communicator, teacher, and an inspiration,” Hardesty said. 

From 7 to 9 p.m., students and faculty packed Litrenta to hear Dr. Natali’s lecture, “The Local to Global Impacts of Arctic Thaw.” Dr. Natali spoke about her time traveling around the Arctic, working everywhere from Siberia to Alaska. 

Dr. Natali made it clear that her team is dedicated to acknowledging the relation between climate, her works, and the indigenous people who live in the Arctic. 

“The impacts of climate change in the Arctic and elsewhere…we sort of recognize that the changes that we’re seeing are interacting with ongoing harms that have been caused by colonization and extractivism,” Dr. Natali said. “And our team — we work very hard to continuously learn and be respectful and to try to conduct our work in more equitable ways, respecting indigenous knowledge and indigenous sovereignty.”

Maps showing the temperature anomalies across the world was what made Dr. Natali interested in the Arctic. She said that the Arctic is not only in need of salvation, but more scientific attention. 

“I think we often hear about trying to keep this global warming to two degrees celsius and I will say the Arctic has passed that point a long time ago. And these changes that we are seeing are expected to continue into the future,” Dr. Natali said. 

She said that the importance of saving the Arctic could not be underestimated, for both the people who reside there and due to the effects it has in the West, such as droughts, or the East, such as hurricane conditions. Dr. Natali also mentioned that the big three impacts of climate change in the Arctic are “sea ice, land ice, and permafrost.” 

In maps shown during the lecture, the Earth was shown getting worse, marked by the years 2040 and 2060. 

“And there is two things I want to point out — first, is 2040 and 2060 are not so far away, so this isn’t a 2100 situation. As I said, this is already happening in the Arctic now. Impacts are already happening and they are gonna get more severe,” Dr. Natali said.

As Dr. Natali continued to explain in her lecture, this isn’t a situation that’s entirely out of humanity’s hands. 

“The other point is that this does not have to be the future. This is a map that is based on models that are assuming that we are gonna continue on our current climate trajectory. And I say at the start, the good news is that we do have control over what this pathway looks like, so this is the worst-case scenario and it can be slightly better than it is,” Dr. Natali said. 

Not only is Dr. Natali dedicated to the cause of the Arctic and saving a rapidly changing environment, but to the spread of education on the topic. Dr. Natali worked with students in the Arctic and attended the House Committee in September 2022, arguing for her cause. 

“Congresswoman Haley Stevens from Michigan — she was chairing this, and at the end, she closed and she said, ‘Oh, I came into this session on the Arctic thinking, ‘Ice, ice, ice,’ and now all I think is, ‘Permafrost, permafrost, permafrost,’” Dr. Natali said.

Dr. Natali’s lecture was the first part of a series that WC and the Center for Environment and Society are putting on titled the “Polar Expedition Speakers Series.” The series is set to have a myriad of events, from speakers to documentaries, running through the month of February.

Photo by Parker Thornton Photo Caption:Dr. Susan Natali spoke from both her own experiences and other researchers.

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