Bay Area explorer makes fascinating discovery

March 21, 2008 10:48:19 AM PDT
A Bay Area explorer, who has spent much of his life on the Arctic, says he still respects and listens to the scientist who question climate change. Dennis Schmitt, who was 19 when he first crossed the Behring Strait during the Cold War, discovered a new island created by melting ice.

Dennis Schmitt has the best of both worlds. At home in Berkeley, he lives a life of relative obscurity. However, his work takes him above the Arctic Circle.

"We didn't discover the island on purpose. It was an accident," says Schmitt.

Dennis Schmitt has traveled the Arctic much of his life. So in 2005, when he came upon a strait where an ice bridge had existed before, he realized he had discovered the place now called 'Warming Island'.

"It's seven kilometers across, has glaciers, and fjords. It's a place unto itself."

It was created by a retreating ice shelf, caused by a world warming faster than any other time in history.

Schmitt likes to say you will never get famous as an explorer. However, it does have certain subtle rewards. If you open the latest edition of the Oxford World Atlas, you will see his island.

"Explorers don't do things for global reasons. They explore because they're curious. And suddenly, I made discoveries with political implications. And now, I'm riding with the tide of that," says Schmitt.

In the two years since, Dennis Schmitt has found three more such islands. They are places that most of us will never visit or might not have mattered, unless we view them in context. Places that now, we cannot ignore, thanks to one man, who simply likes to explore.

"There is a listing of me now with Daniel Boone, among America's greatest 150 explorers. Now that I have been listed with Daniel Boone, I feel that I have accomplished something," says Schmitt.

Dennis Schmitt plans a return to the Arctic this summer.