76 women on a glacier are changing the world

Heidi Steltzer’s job, as she puts it, is “hiking where no one else will go.” As a mountain and polar ecologist studying rare plants, she’s accustomed to traveling to breathtaking Arctic vistas to chase flora along mountain ridges.

But watching glaciers calve on her first trip to Antarctica last December was a one-of-a-kind experience for the scientist. “You kind of want to see it,” she said. “Even though you know it’s not a good thing, you kind of want to be there.”

As she watched the great icebergs float by the boat in Neko Harbor, another member of Steltzer’s trip waved her arm at the scene, as if summoning a force to shave the glaciers surrounding them.

“Can you imagine if any one of us had that kind of power to see ice calve when you wanted to see it?” laughed Steltzer. “But at the same time, we knew, collectively — we do have that power. You can’t say these specific glaciers are definitively calving because of human action. But these events continuing to happen is consistent in that system, and consistent with what we know about human activity and climate change.”

Steltzer’s colleagues were more knowledgeable than your average gaggle of tourists. The travelers on her trip were all scientists, and several of them focus specifically on climate change. What’s more, her 75 companions on the three-week trip were all women, bound together on the largest-ever, all-female expedition to Antarctica. The trip was the focal point of a year-long leadership development program called Homeward Bound, which aims to groom 1,000 women with science backgrounds over the next ten years to influence public policy and dialogue.

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