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Global warming up close and personal on the edge of the earth

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The massive Wilkins Ice Shelf in the Antarctic is collapsing while you read this article.

Will this latest news make us think twice about jumping into our SUV's to go get a coffee from the Starbucks three blocks away? I doubt it, the Wilkins Ice Shelf is hard to connect to on a personal level for most. But for those us who frequent the extreme fringes of the earth, the Wilkins ice shelf and global warming are a reality that hits very close to home.

For many, global warming is a distant dilemma. Seemingly it threatens only far off places and lives far removed from our own. We see fickle weather in our cities and towns, or the flooding in the Midwest or hurricanes, and we wonder for a moment, and then we move on.

For Explorers, Global Warming is altogether different - it is something near and unmistakably immediate.

We stand on the mud and rock slopes of Kilimanjaro, for instance, where years before we clung to ice, and we take pause. Here, something terrible is happening. Higher up, hundreds of feet over head, the ice recedes like a retreating cloud sadly marked by a gray muddy mix of uncovered soil and run off.

We trek across deserts, each expanding from a seemingly unchecked disease. Here we see shifting sands claiming mile after mile of fertile soil. We arrive by foot expecting scruff grass, small trees and if we are lucky, water - yet find nothing but sand and its dunes marching tirelessly toward the horizon.

There is no mistake, we check our GPS - life has been evicted from this place.

We trudge though mud and swamps on plateaus where years before we dug holes in permafrost to store perishables. We are stopped in our tracks by seawater - the once solid Arctic ice no longer, well... solid. There is a moment of panic.

Once the territory of bears and part of the planet's hard surface it is now churning black sea as dark as a pupil. We stand alone on the driest dessert on the planet, Antarctica, and watch in horror as snow piles up ceaselessly - something never seen before. For weeks we wander in snowy white out, fearing no only for ourselves, but the planet.

It is in the marginal landscapes of our world that people like me wander, and it is in these places that one sees and feels the things to come.

On November 8, 2008 Todd Carmichael will attempt to become the first American in history to reach the South Pole, solo and unaided.

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