The New York Times has a story about the astonishing decline in sea ice this summer.
An interesting twist appears. If sea ice continues to vanish, it’s a fertile research topic, likely to be funded, likely to be published. Unless, that is, it goes away altogether. When the ice cover becomes purely seasonal, it becomes a less interesting phenomenon for field study or modeling. The problem is that this may happen sooner than expected.
A sardonic quote from an Alaskan geophysicist about this is nevertheless not entirely a matter of grim humor:
At a recent gathering of sea-ice experts at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, Hajo Eicken, a geophysicist, summarized it this way: “Our stock in trade seems to be going away.”
Anyway, even if Eicken isn’t serious, I am. Should we be as concerned about the glaciologists as about the polar bears who are under the same threat? More so? Less so?
How much risk should scientists be taking in the event that their field goes out of fashion (or, in this case, out of existence)? There are a lot of intrinsic reasons to do science, but there are some extrinsic reasons not to bother. What should be the fate of the person who bets on the wrong scientific horse?
Scientists historically traded off the possibility of wealth for a life of calm contemplation, not one of personal financial risk. If the deal gets worse, fewer people will become scientists. This matters.