Bart Gordon at the Bottom of the World

Written by Sarah Calise, Project Archivist

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) celebrates World Science Day for Peace and Development every year on November 10th. To honor this important day, the AGRC would like to share some archival documents from the Bart Gordon Papers pertaining to the Congressman’s involvement with the United States Antarctic Program (USAP).

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An image of the Transantarctic Mountains block ice flowing from the east Antarctic plateau in the McMurdo Dry Valleys. (Bart Gordon Papers)

Gordon was a high-ranking member in the House of Representatives’ Committee on Science. In 1996, the Committee on Science participated in a hearing on the National Science and Technology Council’s assessment of USAP, the state of the South Pole station, and the budget for continuing a year-round scientific presence in the region. The NSTC’s report endorsed the value of USAP and its continued need as a center for research on various issues like climate change, life on Mars, plant and animal life, and the depletion of the ozone layer.

Gordon made a couple of trips to Antarctica during his time as a congressman. One trip occurred in light of the hearing with the NSTC. In 1996, from December 10 to the December 20, he traveled to the Antarctic in order to evaluate America’s research and security interests. Gordon wrote a brief summary of his time there, titled “My Trip to the Bottom of the World” (see scans of the entire summary below). In the article, he described the brutal travel conditions–a total of 45 hours of flight time to reach the South Pole along with 41 below zero temperatures. Yet, for Gordon, it was all worth it. He visited two of the three major research stations that USAP operates–McMurdo station and Amundsen-Scott South Pole station. The third station, Palmer, focuses on the effects of the depletion of the ozone layer on Earth. Following his adventure south, Gordon recommended that the U.S. continue its research in the region.

One major aspect of Gordon’s trip was learning of USAP’s research on climate change. He stated that American scientists “found evidence of dramatic climatic changes” and that they were drilling a hole to the Earth’s core to study weather patterns dating back 1,000 years. He explained that the scientists were studying the Antarctica ice sheet that showed signs of breaking away, which would cause a dangerous rise in sea levels and flooding throughout much of the world.

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Bart Gordon, third from left, at the McMurdo Station at the south tip of Ross Island in Antarctica on December 3, 2007. (Image courtesy of the Antarctic Photo Library)

20 years later, 192 states and the European Union have signed the Paris Agreement. On November 4, 2016, the United States and many other countries officially entered the Agreement into force. The Agreement is part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. According to the UN, the Paris Agreement “builds upon the Convention and–for the first time –brings all nations into a common cause to undertake take ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so. As such, it charts a new course in the global climate effort.”

On World Science Day, the AGRC urges citizens to become knowledgeable about our beautiful but threatened planet and to contact your local and state officials about combating climate change.

Update: cover_brpIn 2011, President Obama appointed Bart Gordon to the twelve-member U.S. Antarctic Program Blue Ribbon Panel tasked with conducting an independent review of USAP. The panel’s goal was to ensure USAP’s sustainability for scientific endeavors, international collaborations, and a strong U.S. presence in Antarctica for decades into the future. After months of research, several days of briefings and trips to the USAP stations, the panel produced its final report, “More and Better Science in Antarctica through Increased Logistical Effectiveness.,” which you can view and download on the panel’s official website.

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