Nov 02 2020

Professor Klaus Dodds, Department of Geography, has recently recorded a podcast with Dr Bethan Davies, also from the Department of Geography. The podcast is called 'Polar Future' and discusses the current climate around the Polar Regions. We recently caught up with Professor Dodds to ask more about these complex Regions.

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role in the Department of Geography?

I came to Royal Holloway 27 years ago on a temporary lectureship and never left. Since then I have had a number of roles including admissions tutor, director of research groups, Dean of the Graduate School, and most recently School of Life Sciences and Environment’s Research Director. I am also REF 2021 lead for Geography and manage the REF submission for the School. Apart from those roles, I have supervised over 35 PhD students and taught a mixture of undergraduate and postgraduate courses. My teaching highlights have always been fieldtrips initially in Kenya and more latterly in Spain. Geography is a fieldwork-based discipline (and that is why it is really sad that fieldtrips have had to be cancelled/postponed).

2. Yourself and your colleague Dr Bethan Davies recently recorded a podcast called ‘Polar Future’, can you tell us what the podcast is about?

The podcast was a lovely opportunity to collaborate with my colleague Bethan about a part of the world we both care about – namely Antarctica. In my case I address the geopolitical and governance issues – how do we manage and protect an area of the world which is a global common? Bethan and I are both interested in climate change and its impact on Antarctica’s ice sheets and surrounding ocean. The implications are massive from rising sea level to changing marine life in the Southern Ocean.

3. Why are the Polar regions so important, and who is responsible for looking after them?

The polar regions are not ‘poles apart’. They are integral to the current and future health of planet Earth. Less sea ice, more permafrost thawing, and abundant wildfires in Siberia are not just challenges for those who live there but have implications for all of us – a warmer Arctic is disruptive of global weather systems for example. In the Arctic, the eight Arctic states are largely responsible for an area inhabited by 4 million people. In the Antarctic, a unique Treaty system helps to manage this global common on behalf of humanity.

4. You talk about Climate Change in the podcast, can you tell us what the major effects of Climate Change are, not only for the landscape of the Polar regions, but for people that live in them?

Climate change is a huge game-changer. Let me just offer one example. In the Arctic, in places like coastal Alaska, a warming Arctic is costly and disruptive. Sea ice and cold are critical to indigenous life. Thick sea ice means that it is possible to travel safely over vast areas and pursue hunting opportunities (walrus, seal, whale). Marine mammals are often found at the edge of sea ice or polynyas. Less sea ice means that it is dangerous to travel over it. Marine mammals might migrate elsewhere. Less sea ice means that winter storms do more damage to coastlines and endanger settlements. Permafrost thaw means that buildings become unstable. Food insecurity, mental health crises, reliable energy, secure Internet, and access to clean water are still major problems in many smaller and remoter Arctic communities.

5. Due to current travel restrictions, when are you hoping to travel to the Polar regions again?

The pandemic has given a reality check to many polar and climate change academics who travel frequently for workshops and seminars. The Arctic is full of awkward paradoxes. I have been in Svalbard and northern Norway listening/participating in climate change/Arctic seminars while other participants speak about oil and gas potential north of the Arctic Circle. I am not sure when I will be on a plane again anywhere to be frank. And like many Arctic scholars, I would be very worried about a covid-19 spike in smaller and remoter communities.

6. What do you enjoy most about working at Royal Holloway?

The people. I think we are blessed with a collegial and convivial environment and many people outside Royal Holloway are swift to tell me how lucky I am to be at Royal Holloway.