Marco Tedesco: Snowman


Adapted from an article in the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory 2021 Annual Report.

Marco Tedesco on the Russell Glacier, southwest Greenland, summer 2018. (Kevin Krajick/Earth Institute)

Glaciology was not an obvious career path for Italian-born Marco Tedesco. Growing up in his hometown of Avellino, on the mountainside near Naples, his parents had very different expectations for him. Get your degree, find a job. Tedesco ended up with other plans. Today, Tedesco is one of the world’s most respected and cited polar experts, having traveled eleven times to Greenland and twice to Antarctica (not counting the many times he has visited mountainous regions); author of a book, The Hidden Life of Ice: Dispatches from a Vanishing World (a National Geographic and Washington Post Best Travel Book of 2020); and published nearly 150 peer-reviewed research articles.

He presents his passion for the study of snow and ice as a kind of love story. Her father was a construction supervisor, working 10 hour days in all types of weather. As Tedesco studied electrical engineering at the University of Naples and was on a path his parents thought would lead to a job in industry with good pay, he found himself drawn to a life of research.

“I have always been attracted to science and an academic career. No one in my family has done this, so there’s no history. I applied for a doctorate in Florence. I did not enter at first. He decided to prepare to apply again, but a month later his college advisor called him. “My adviser said to me: ‘Look, we have a project on the snow. Are you interested?’ I said yes. And it was my key. I started working on snow; I fell in love with the job. I went to the mountains and basically married this medium.

Eventually, he obtained his PhD in Italy from the Italian National Research Council in Florence, focusing on the interaction of electromagnetic waves and snow particles for satellite applications.

“My first day of PhD, my supervisor came to see me with three books totaling around 1,000 pages and told me to get back to him once I finished digesting them. I only had a desk and a lamp, not even a computer. Three months later, Tedesco went to his adviser, having finished the books and with a draft of a first article.

In 2002 Tedesco began a research appointment at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, left Avelino and moved to Washington, D.C.

“I had a thousand dollars in my pocket and my wife was pregnant with our first daughter,” Tedesco said. He also had a one-and-a-half-hour one-way trip across town each day. He used the time spent on the train and the bus to read and study, to learn to speak and write English better.

In 2008, Tedesco moved to the City College of New York (CCNY) as an assistant professor, where he was promoted to associate professor in 2012. At CCNY, he founded and led the Cryosphere Processes Laboratory and served as a rotating program director at the National Science Foundation between 2013 and 2015. In January 2016, Tedesco joined Lamont. Here he continues his research on the dynamics of the seasonal properties of the snowpack and ice sheet surface and continues his field work exploring exoplanetary biology on icy surfaces and global climate change and its implications for the planet. economy, real estate and socially vulnerable populations.

Much of Tedesco’s work and writings focused on the remarkable decline of Arctic ice. During the summer of 2021, Tedesco and other climatologists recorded daily melt rates seven times higher than usual.

A heat wave in mid-August brought the first-ever rainfall recorded at Summit Camp, at the highest point of the ice sheet. Seven billion tons of water fell on the ice sheet. Tedesco called the rain event unique and alarming.

“Never in my life would I have thought I would see rain on Summit. It’s called Greenland’s dry snow patch for a reason,” he said. are substantial changes underway, characterized by multiple events rather than a single snapshot. This is consistent with what we expected to see based on the models and our understanding of physical processes. There is very little hope that things will reverse because the processes we know are causing the acceleration of melting in Greenland and Antarctica, which has been going on for some time and cannot be easily stopped without drastic intervention on the CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.

Tedesco is watching with great concern the rate at which predicted polar ice changes are materializing.

“The changes are happening even faster than the most dire predictions suggest.”

The injustice of the consequences of climate change is of particular concern. Too often, the communities that generate the lowest amounts of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming are those that experience the most severe climate consequences.

In the summer of 2021, Tedesco and colleagues released the Socio-Economic Physical Housing Eviction Risk (SEPHER) dataset. It incorporates socio-economic information on the risks of forest fires, drought, coastal and river floods and other hazards, as well as financial information from real estate databases and ethnicity data, race and gender. The goal is to consider the economic vulnerability associated with the housing market that considers racial, gender and ethnicity factors so that responders can take appropriate action to protect vulnerable populations. SEPHER covers the entire United States, and Tedesco has made it one of the pillars of this project that all data should be publicly available.

“The tool aims to quantify the objective analysis of the role of climate impacts in social and racial injustice, such as in the case of climate gentrification and climate displacement or injustice.”

Tedesco will lead his next expedition to Greenland in 2022, when he and paleoclimatologist Lamont Brendan Buckley will travel to a forest in southern Greenland to collect tree-ring samples to work on reconstructing the climate of Greenland in the 1800s.

“We want to know what happened before we can measure things,” he said. Since trees can live for hundreds or even thousands of years, a tree can experience various environmental conditions: wet years, dry years, cold years, warm years, early frosts, forest fires, etc. Tree rings can indicate the age of the tree and the weather in each year of its life. “The plan is to reach Greenland’s only forest, a patch of land no more than six miles, near where Erik the Red arrived and named Greenland as we know it today. It will be an exciting journey!

The pandemic forced a postponement of this field study, which was scheduled for last year. The pandemic and its many restrictions have also illuminated something for Tedesco, something disturbing, given the kind of global collaboration needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid some of the most catastrophic future climate consequences.

“As a species, we have not been able to come together with masks and vaccines. If we can’t unite in the face of such a great and imminent threat [as COVID-19], how to convince that it is necessary to act for future generations? In this regard, the pandemic has given way to questions about the world around me.

However, Tedesco remains optimistic, especially when he thinks about the power of new generations and the ability to adopt a way of life that takes into account economic aspects as well as sustainability and moral and ethical values.


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