Science, especially the science of ecosystems and change, needs symbols. It needs those symbols to communicate the importance of the change we're quantifying - change which is sometimes incremental but inexorable, adding up to large changes over big areas.
Species migration is one such incremental thing, hard to communicate the significance but important - at a global scale.
In a new project funded by National Geographic, I'll be leading an expedition to Cape Horn, an expedition which is intended to link science and storytelling, ultimately providing us with a single focal point for change, a point which folks can visit virtually. Together with scientists from the Universidad de Magallanes, Portland State, the University of North Texas, the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, and the University of Alaska, we're going to find the world's southernmost tree - the ultimate treeline, if you will. This individual - no doubt stunted but alive - can function as a symbol or signpost, marking the edge of forests as they creep poleward. We'll establish a strong a quantitative baseline as we can such that future generations can use that focal point as an easily communicable marker of human induced change (there's other science, including using the point as an anchor for regional NDVI work, comparison to other points in Patagonia, and other aspects of course!).
The project is truly focused on storytelling and communicating the science of change - communication of that point (thanks to Google Earth, one will be able to virtually visit) and that landscape. The region is home to a vibrant ecological and human community, including amazing efforts like the Cape Horn Biosphere reserve, exciting initiatives like the "Tourism with a hand lens" project to explore the fascinating plant life at our feet, and a long cultural legacy of life at the edge of the world. Thankfully, we'll have a professional writer and photographer along to spread the word about this unique place.
Updates will become more frequent as the expedition nears. Thanks to National Geographic for their support, and I'm looking forward to a great (no doubt challenging) expedition. Team members (so far) include Ricardo Rozzi, Juan Armesto, Andres Holz, Glenn Wright, Craig Welch, and myself.