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Photographer's lens is focused on climate change

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Cristina Mittermeier relaxing with Inuit hunters
Cristina Mittermeier relaxing with Inuit hunters in a Temporary camp by the edge of the sea ice
Cristina Mittermeier

Dramatic photos of an emaciated polar bear caught the world's attention in a way that climate-change data and dire warnings about loss of Arctic sea ice never could. The photographer responsible for the photo is Cristina Mittermeier, who is also a trained marine biologist. She describes the photography she does—for National Geographic and others—as "conservation photography". 

Mittermeier joined Mike Edgerly, MPR News executive news editor, to talk about the power of photographs to teach and inspire people to action.

She is in St. Paul for the National Geographic LIVE series Thursday night (April 19) at 7 p.m. at the Fitzgerald Theater.

Here are five things Mittermeier wants the world to know about the effects of climate change on water:

1. One of the most evident signs of climate change that is already affecting coastal communities in the northern latitudes, is the disappearance of sea ice in the summer months from the Arctic.

For the Inuit people of northern Greenland an increasingly unstable sea ice means a much harder time reaching their hunting grounds, and of course, a much more dangerous journey on the ice.

2. For farmers around the world, one of the more serious effects of climate change is the increasing unpredictability of the rainy season. Whereas just a few years ago it was possible to determine the best times to plant and harvest based on the arrival of the rains, today, extended droughts, floods and wildfires are making it hard for farmers to grow crops.

3. In Antarctica climate change is having a notable effect on wildlife populations, and especially on penguin colonies.  As the weather regime turns from one of snow into one of rain, penguin chicks suffer because their fluffy down feathers are not suited to deal with muddy conditions. When they get muddy and wet and the temperatures drop, they freeze to death.

4. Increased water temperatures in the ocean have produced the death of over 50% of all coral reefs due to coral bleaching.  Scientists are trying to find and grow species that are more resistant to warmer temperatures in hopes of replanting some of the coral reefs that have disappeared.

5. One of the least known consequences of warmer oceans due to climate change, is the change in coastal precipitation patterns, which tend to create drier conditions.  In the Pacific Northwest this has meant an increased incidence of forest wildfires that have burned thousands of hectares of coastal vegetation, from desert scrub to temperate rain forest.

 Use the audio player above to listen to their conversation.