How many men have faced a smoke monster and a polar bear on a tropical island, then seduced and fed on a bevy of beautiful women? Only one, as far as we know. And that would be none other than Ian Somerhalder. The blue-eyed, chisel-jawed, 37-year-old actor is best known as castaway Boone Carlyle on the ABC TV series Lost, and as Damon Salvatore, a sexy, somewhat naughty 170-plus-year-old vampire who makes good use of every undead moment on The CW’s supernatural drama, The Vampire Diaries. But this month, when Somerhalder appears in an episode of the National Geographic Channel’s documentary series Years of Living Dangerously (airing Nov. 2), he experiences a real-life situation as mind-blowing as any faced by his fictional characters.
To find out the effect that humans have on climate change, and how our actions—or lack thereof—will impact storms in the future, Somerhalder traveled hundreds of feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean inside a three-man submarine. His mission: to explore what scientists refer to as a blue hole, an underwater cave that accumulates sediment over time, creating a perfect time capsule of past hurricanes. “The most unnatural place for a human being to be is 400 feet below the surface of the water, but it holds such wonderment and such beauty,” says Somerhalder. “And it is emotional. I realized I was sitting on sand, shells and debris that was going to tell us the story of the climate. … You feel, in that moment, at one with the planet.”
At the very bottom of the deep blue sea, in an area of Earth that remains virtually untouched, he contemplated human nature and our place in the universe. “I was just down there thinking: We are a powerful, really dumb animal,” he recalls. “We’re eating ourselves out of house and home. And we’re putting our future at risk for money.”
Known as one of the entertainment world’s most vocal environmental and animal rights activists, Somerhalder has been a United Nations Environment Programme goodwill ambassador; a participant in Angry Birds: Champions for Earth, the special tournament incorporating information on climate change into the popular mobile game; a supporter of WildAid (wildaid.org), an organization to end the illegal trade of shark fin, elephant ivory and rhino horn; and a proponent of Go Green Mobile Power (ggmpower.com), an industry leader in eco-efficient, off-grid power and lighting solutions for the government and entertainment industry.