The importance of glaciers
Photo by Jake Dyson November 14, 2022
National Geographic Society Explorer M Jackson to give 2022 John R. Mather Lecture
Many years ago, as she worked as a backcountry guide in southeast Alaska, M Jackson recalls having a lot of questions about ice. There was just one problem: she couldn’t seem to find anyone who could provide her the answers.
One day, while guiding a group of National Geographic photographers, who were out photographing birds, her persistent questions about ice changed her life forever.
“I thought, ‘These people are very smart, and they know all this stuff about birds, so of course they’ll know stuff about glaciers,’” said Jackson. “So I asked them about these glaciers, and the magic moment for me was when they said to me, ‘These are great questions. You should answer them.’ I never had anybody tell me that before.”
That comment provided the spark for Jackson’s career. She has gone on to become a geographer, glaciologist, and science communicator being named a National Geographic Society Explorer, TED Fellow, and three-time U.S. Fulbright Scholar in the process.
Jackson spends her time studying, talking and writing about ice and the importance of glaciers. She has completed two books: While Glaciers Slept and The Secret Lives of Glaciers, and has a new novel, The Ice Sings Back, scheduled to be released in January 2023. Jackson also appears in the Netflix documentary series, Pirate Gold of Adak Island and wrote and narrated the short film After Ice available on vimeo.
Jackson will talk about this lifelong fascination with glaciers during the 2022 John R. Mather Visiting Scholars Lecture on Thursday, Nov. 17 at 5 p.m., titled “The Secret Lives of Glaciers.” Register here to attend in person or receive a link to view the livestream.
The lecture will focus on glaciers and how they impact our lives — and have impacted Jackson’s life, personally — in surprising ways. It will deal with glaciers in Iceland, where Jackson has spent a lot of time, but also talk about glaciers from a worldwide perspective.
“People are often surprised that we have glaciers all over the world. They are found on all of our continents, with the exception of Australia, and are often found in surprising places,” said Jackson. “We have glaciers in places that range from the obvious, like Alaska, Iceland, Svalbard, and Scandinavia, to Africa in the Rwenzori and Mt. Kilimanjaro, to South America and Papua New Guinea.”
Jackson said she is always amazed by how every glacier is different, unique and distinct everywhere they are located.
However, because glaciers aren’t located in the vast majority of people’s backyards, ice might not be at the forefront of people’s minds because there is a good amount of distance between them and glaciers.
“It’s not like we’re talking about the Delaware River,” said Jackson. “I think we give very little thought to glaciers, and we’re not as defensive of them as we are some other environmental issues because for most of us, they are one step removed.”
During the lecture, Jackson will show between 50 and 80 photos of glaciers.
The hope is that by showing and explaining the images of glaciers to the audience, it will move the audience closer to glaciers. Jackson said it is critical to talk to people about glaciers in order to educate them about their importance.
According to the United States Geological Survey, nearly 10% of the world's land mass is currently covered with glaciers, and they also play an important role in the Earth’s water cycle and the world’s water supply.
“People need to understand what is happening with our world’s ice, but you can’t care about something that you don’t know anything about,” said Jackson. “In the work I do, I’ve tried to centralize the idea that with knowing comes caring and with caring comes hope. That’s why I spend my time doing original field science, speaking publicly about glaciers and doing a lot of television shows and writing books. I’m going to be beating the glacier drum for the duration of my life.”