U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has become the highest-ranking American official to visit Antarctica.
The forbidding landscape inspired “majesty and awe,” Kerry said following his two-day trip to the remote continent November 11–12.
Despite the Paris agreement to cut the fossil-fuel emissions causing the planet to warm, “we haven’t won the battle yet,” Kerry told young climate scientists at McMurdo Station, the large base that serves as a hub for U.S. research in Antarctica. “We need to get more of a movement going,” he said.
Climate is changing at the North and South Poles faster than anywhere else on Earth. Understanding that process is key to understanding climate in the rest of the world.
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) November 11, 2016
Knowing more about Antarctic ice is particularly important: Just one glacier, the Pine Island Glacier, is so large that its melting could cause the world sea level to rise 1.5 meters.
In Western Antarctica, NASA has flown satellites and aircraft to examine the thickness and shape of snow and ice as part of its Operation IceBridge. Overflights allow scientists to better understand rapidly changing areas that are relatively unexplored.
Kerry also visited the world’s largest marine protected area, announced in late October. The Ross Sea Marine Protected Area is the size of the United Kingdom, Germany and France combined. It will protect 38 percent of the world’s Adelie penguins, 30 percent of Antarctic petrels and 6 percent of Antarctic minke whales.
Kerry’s visit preceded a major speech on climate at COP22, the international climate-change conference in Marrakesh, Morocco.
This article draws on reports from the Associated Press.