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April 10, 2016 | by  | in Books |
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Dispatches from Continent Seven: An Anthology of Antarctic Science

★★★★★

Author: Rebecca Priestley

Publisher: Awa Press

 

In this book’s introduction, as editor and science historian Rebecca Priestley writes of the all-encompassing cold of Antarctica, I am overcome with trepidation. “I know that even if there were something seriously wrong with me—Why can’t I breathe?—I would be stuck here,” she writes. Her words start to explain the isolation and inhospitality of the continent, the same place that nevertheless continues to lure people—scientists, artists, nature enthusiasts—from all over the world. The pull of Antarctica has persisted since before it was first sighted, when people dreamed of what might exist at the bottom of the world. It is a place that has never really welcomed us, and yet we cannot stay away.

This impressive volume is a collection of stories from all ages of human habitation on “Continent Seven,” focusing on scientific endeavour. After all, harnessing the history of this land is key to understanding the future of our planet. The earliest explorers, such as Captain James Cook, James Clark Ross, and Robert Falcon Scott, made important discoveries that paved the way for future scientists. Today, the game-changing discoveries continue. In “A page from the ice diary”, Nancy Bertler describes the Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution project, a three-year ice drilling venture aimed at predicting the speed at which the Ross Ice Shelf and the West Antarctic Ice Shelf will deteriorate in response to the earth’s warming climate. A chilly thought. Kathryn Smith writes of warming ocean temperatures causing the invasion of the king crab on Antarctica’s continental shelf, threatening the vulnerable creatures who live there.

While science is the prevailing subject, the poets get a look-in too: Bill Manhire writes of a leopard seal playing with its penguin dinner; Ashleigh Young imagines the inner life of krill. Looking at scientific events through the eyes of an artist might seem at odds with the whole idea of science, and yet there is more than one way of observing the natural world; the poetry collected here skillfully captures the immensity and wonder of Antarctica.

There is so much to discover in this beautifully compiled book. Some stories will appeal more to others, but with not a scientific bone in my body, I found myself enthralled by even the most jargon-heavy passages. It seems that Antarctica has that kind of effect on people.

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