En Route to Study Climate in the North Pacific

The Palmyra Atoll in the North Pacific, one of the most pristine habitats in the world, is a destination for scientists studying climate change, and that makes it a prime subject for NPR's Climate Connections series.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And now to Climate Connections. It's our series that looks at how the climate is changing people and how people are changing the climate. We sent one of our staff members off to the Pacific Ocean to study global warming. Wow, one of our staff members. That's putting it a little mildly. It's actually our very own host, Alex Chadwick. Yesterday I spoke to him on the phone.

Hello.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Maddy?

BRAND: Al?

CHADWICK: Hi, how are you?

BRAND: Oh my God. Turn your aircraft around and just come on home. It's obviously not working out for you.

CHADWICK: Couple of little bumps along the way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHADWICK: Where are you, in the studio?

BRAND: Yeah, where are you?

CHADWICK: Madeleine, I'm at a private airfield in Honolulu, Hawaii. You know, I'm going to a place called Palmyra. It's an atoll, which is a tiny little island. It's about a thousand miles south of here. It happens to be one of the best places in the world to study climate change, among other things because it's a very unusual place.

BRAND: Alex, why is it so unusual?

CHADWICK: Because this is a place that has never been inhabited by humans. I mean, people have lived there from time to time. The island was discovered in the 1800s. People sort of would come and go, but there's never been a human colony that sort of depended on cutting down the forests and fishing out lagoons.

So although there's no place on Earth left that's kind of pristine anymore, this place is about as close as you can get. And it's a place where it's very useful to study how the world used to be, how the climate used to be.

BRAND: And you're going to go there tomorrow?

CHADWICK: I'm about to get on the plane. This is the flight I made about eight years ago. This atoll or island belongs to the Nature Conservancy and the Fish and Wildlife Service, part of the Department of Interior. And I went there eight years ago when the Nature Conservancy was first buying the island. It was one of the most harrowing flights of my life because there's just this little coral landing strip down there.

BRAND: The landing strip is made out of coral?

CHADWICK: Yeah. It was built by the Navy on this place back in World War II. It's a long story and I'm going to explain all of this later. Hold on. Look out for that helicopter. I'm going to explain all this later in my reports. But anyway, we're going again and I was thinking this is going to be a much easier trip, until the plane was delayed.

We were supposed to go yesterday. I was supposed to be there now, but the navigation unit went bad. So they've just put in a new one, which they haven't tested yet. But we're going to take off and go, and with me here is Honest Lyons(ph). He's from the Nature Conservancy. And Honest is going to explain to you why he thinks this navigation unit will work. Honest?

BRAND: Hi, Honest.

Mr. HONEST LYONS (Nature Conservancy): Hi, Madeleine.

BRAND: How are you?

Mr. LYONS: How are you?

BRAND: I'm fine, great. Thank you.

Mr. LYONS: I'm fine, thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LYONS: Likewise. So this, I believe this navigation unit is going to work because it's a new unit.

BRAND: Wait, wait, Honest.

Mr. LYONS: Yes.

BRAND: You said believe. Are you just kind of hoping it'll work when you're up there?

Mr. LYONS: I believe in the sense that I know that this is going to be a great functioning TBS(ph) unit for us.

BRAND: Okay, well, take good care of our friend Alex because we need him back here pretty soon.

Mr. LYONS: I certainly will. I'm going to enjoy the week with him.

BRAND: Okay.

Mr. LYONS: Nice to talk to you, Madeleine.

BRAND: You too. Bye, bye.

Mr. LYONS: Oh.

BRAND: Hey, Alex?

CHADWICK: Yeah.

BRAND: What are you going to do for fun?

CHADWICK: For fun? There is no fun, Madeleine. This is the worst trip.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Oh, right. Sorry. On a pristine beach and no fun. Silly me.

CHADWICK: Well, it's just another assignment. Hey, I'll be back to you in a week. You know, who knows?

BRAND: Or so. Well, thanks for your sacrifice, Alex. I appreciate it. The listeners appreciate it.

CHADWICK: Thank you, Madeleine, and I'll talk to you again soon on DAY TO DAY.

BRAND: Safe trip. For more on the hard work we do here at DAY TO DAY on climate change, you can go to our Web site, npr.org.

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