Meet Our Experts:
An Interview with Ford Cochran
Meet National Geographic Expert Ford Cochran, an environmental scientist, writer, and web producer for National Geographic. Ford will join our expedition to Iceland, a country that has fascinated him since he first ventured into a volcano there while on assignment for National Geographic Television.
What inspired you to start exploring?
I grew up in the Washington, DC area and one of my neighbors worked for National Geographic. His house was full of interesting things that he had collected on his travels throughout the world. At the time, I thought everyone had been to Easter Island! But as I grew up, I learned how extraordinary his life was. It made me want to get out and see what’s out there—to discover the world on my own.
What was your most exciting assignment with National Geographic?
It was actually in Iceland. I was reporting on a research expedition with a renowned volcanologist, exploring a volcanic caldera surrounded by miles and miles of ice fields. We drove out across the Vatnajökull glacier, and there in the middle of the ice was an incredible, steaming crater. A volcanic eruption in 1996 had melted through hundreds of feet of ice, creating a fantastic landscape of ash, rock, ice cliffs and caves. We spent most of a week rappelling into it, climbing through the caves, filming amazing environments.
What does it feel like to be in an ice cave?
Otherworldly. The walls and ceilings look sculpted, and in many places a deep blue light penetrates the ice. Huge chunks had fallen from the ceiling, and some of the folks in our group were smart enough not to want to be there when the next came down. But Carsten Peter (who photographs extreme environments—he was on his first assignment for National Geographic magazine) and I couldn’t get enough!
Why is Iceland a good case study for climate change?
Iceland is geologically one of the most fascinating places in the world. The Atlantic ocean’s floor is literally ripping apart at the seams, constantly spreading, and because there’s also a volcanic “hotspot” deep beneath Iceland, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge rises above sea level here. Hence the island’s volcanic nature. You have some of the largest waterfalls on Earth, geysers, fumaroles, volcanoes—both dormant and active. And it’s close enough to the Arctic Circle that a lot of the landscape is glacial. You can get right up to that ice, even drive on it, like we did on assignment, and what with global warming, you can practically watch glaciers retreating right before your eyes. Climate change is affecting lots of places, but particularly those near Earth’s poles. So Iceland has some of the most tangible—and accessible—evidence of it.
Why do you like working with students?
Students, particularly young ones, are open to learning new things and seeing the world in new ways. There’s little that excites me more than visiting an extraordinary place for the first time—and being able to share that experience with others is thrilling. For teens today, there’s also genuine urgency to caring for this amazing planet we share. My best teachers and friends inspired me to care, to dedicate my career to trying to open eyes and make a difference for the better. I hope I might do the same for others.