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Climatologist Richard Alley accepts Distinguished Explorer Award

The Roy Chapman Andrews Society (RCAS) presented the 2018 Distinguished Explorer Award on Friday, March 2. The event took place in Wilson Theatre at Beloit College’s Mayer Hall. This year the award went to Dr. Richard Alley, a geologist and climatologist from the University of Pennsylvania.

Alley is a world-renowned scientist who published the popular book 2 Mile Time Machine. He also starred in a PBS mini-series about climate change and works closely with members of congress to try and convince lawmakers of the reality of global warming. 

Photo by Tess Lydon

The award ceremony, which took place at 4:30 p.m., was highly attended by students, faculty and community members. Despite the large auditorium, so many people attended that the event quickly became standing-room only.

Provost Ann Davies gave the opening comments and reflected on the history of the award and its namesake– famous Beloit alum Roy Chapman Andrews. “I believe that [Alley and Chapman] are kindred spirits…and Beloiters,” she said.

Joe Stadelman, president of the Roy Chapman Andrews Society, addressed the crowd after Davies, followed by Ann Bausum, a founding RCAS board member and biographer of Chapman’s life. She detailed Chapman’s numerous expeditions in Mongolia and the Gobi Desert, where he studied insects and dinosaurs.

Steve Vavrus, the senior scientist at the nelson institute center for climatic research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, had the honor of introducing Alley. Of the explorer, Vavrus praised Alley’s dedication to sharing his research with the public, citing his impressive track record of over 1,000 public presentations. As Davies pointed out, Vavrus said that “[Chapman and Alley] shared a preference of arid terrain[s]” referring to Alley’s work in Greenland and the North Pole.

Alley took the stage after first inviting those in standing-room only to come down to the front. “People ask me what my job description is,” he started off. “Simply….[it is to] learn what nobody knows, share it with others and help them use it to do good.”

When starting his power point, Alley chose to conflate his work with a familiar geographic scene– the midwest. He explained that large ice sheet once covered the midwest and left “geographic footprints” like the Great Lakes. This glacial movement transferred much Canada’s topsoil down to the midwest, allowing for such a strong agricultural economy.

With Illinois’ ice history explained, Dr. Alley moved onto to his own personal work with climate change. “If it’s in the air it’s in the ice,” he said as he showed the audience pictures of Greenland.

Throughout his research, Alley and his team cut large squares out of the ice and looked at the strata- which were snow bands that showed the change in temperate and different chemicals in the air. Using this method, his team drilled down to the core of icebergs in Greenland hundreds of years back.

Once Alley established the method that he used to observe ice, he explained to the audience why his findings could be problematic. “When you melt ice, CO2 goes up.” Because of his thousands of hours of research observing ice strata, it was clear that ice bands showed higher world temperatures and higher CO2 levels.

In terms of climate change deniers, Alley explained that climate has always been changeable-but that’s the disturbing part about it. “It’s even more reason to be vigilant,” he said.

Despite some of the more discouraging facts about irreplaceable ice loss on the arctic, Alley was optimistic, and encouraged the audience consider the reality of climate change, and try to make changes in their own life. He argued that respecting climate change and making movements in government to reverse some of its effects could lead to a “greater economy and national security.”

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