“One day, a white sheet is draped over the ocean, the next it has burst into a million pieces. A ghost, within a matter of days.” Jack Ryan beautifully weaves history, personal narrative, and science writing in this reported essay for CNET. He comments on our current climate crisis from a front-row seat at the literal edge of the world, hearing melting ice from the continent drip into the sea. It’s not only a contemplative personal piece, but an engaging read about ghost stories, past expeditions, and ecological collapse.
Deeper inland from Casey, the East Antarctic ice sheet rests mostly undisturbed, except for a few international installations. Drip. Locked up within the sheet is “tens of meters” of sea-level rise, according to Matt King, an ice sheet scientist at the University of Tasmania. If the whole thing were to melt, the results would be disastrous. Drip. Some of the world’s most famous cities would drown. Drip. There’s no danger of that happening anytime soon, but the East Antarctic ice sheet has received far less attention than the West. We’re only just beginning to find out how vulnerable it might be. There remain many “unknown unknowns,” King says. Drip.
As I listen to the steady melt, my mind wanders back to the “This is fine” dog, to the scorched air of a burning country. I pull my hood over my forehead, zip my jacket up over my chin and drift off.
On his way down, Uchikoshi lost his footing, causing him to slip, knock his head and break his pelvis. Unable to move or call for help, he lay wounded on the side of the mountain. At night the autumn cold, dropping as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit, crept into his bones. He passed out.
After 24 days, he was found by a passing climber and transferred to Kobe City Medical Center General Hospital. He was extremely hypothermic and cold to the touch. Many of his organs were failing. According to news reports at the time, Uchikoshi’s doctors reasoned he had fallen into a state “similar to hibernation,” just like a groundhog might.
To understand his ordeal on the mountain, I would need to investigate how scientists are using extreme cold to induce a state of suspended animation in trauma patients. I would need to learn what spaceflight companies think about hibernation during interplanetary voyages, beyond the orbit of the moon and Mars, and explore how neuroscientists are unraveling the chemical mysteries inside the brain to activate hibernation-like states in other mammals. And lastly, I would need to try to find Uchikoshi.
Uchikoshi’s hibernation had become a holy grail, but it seemed like he’d become a ghost. Chasing that ghost first led me to zombies.