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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I did not want the book to end, 18 Dec. 2012
This review is from: Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of the World's Most Mysterious Continent (Hardcover)
"Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of a Mysterious Continent" is an extraordinary book written by an extraordinary woman. Gabrielle Walker weaves all the significant research about the threads of life on Antarctica's vast ice sheets into a profound tapestry of what it's like to be there.
Walker says because Antarctica is the oldest landscape in the world it's still telling its story to anyone who stays long enough to hear. Although Antarctica is bigger than the continental US and has forty-nine temporary bases it officially belongs to nobody. An international treaty was signed by forty-nine countries declaring the entire place to 'peace and science' in the early 60s.
Walker reports the history and cutting-edge science experiments on the giant West and larger East Antarctic Ice Sheets, the vulnerable Western Amundsen Coast, the rapidly warming Antarctic Peninsula, the massive barrier-like Ross and Ronne Ice Shelves and the South Pole.
It's fascinating to learn how the South Pole's Remote Earth Science and Seismological Observatory looks inwards to the Earth's core to measure earthquakes and construct an image of the Earth's mantle - it has a liquid outer core made of pure iron and a hot hard solid sphere of iron in the center. Because the observatory picks up the seismic waves of nuclear bombs they can make sure nobody cheats on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
At the same time giant telescopes high on the summits of the high plateau of the eastern ice sheets probe the cold, dry sky to see parts of the Universe that other telescopes can't reach.
Walker says the Earth's history, buried as bubbles of ancient air in ice core samples in Antarctica tell us beyond any doubt that our burning of oil, coal and gas has significantly changed our atmosphere. Twelve thousand foot ice core samples from the Russian Vostok Station with four full ice age records showed a tight correlation between the Earth's temperature, greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide. The levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today are higher than they have been for at least 800,000 years. The temperature records from many stations confirm the Antarctic Peninsula has warmed by five degrees Fahrenheit over the previous fifty years, which is three times the global average.
The Larson B Ice shelf shattered in 2002 and satellite images show ice retreating in the Amundson Sea sector. Researchers found this has not happened for a least 10,000 years.
Two stations also found there are hundreds of interconnected lakes underlying the Antarctic ice. Since the lakes frequently fill and empty scientists fear the rushing water could destabilize large parts of the ice sheet.
On a positive note when Antarctica researchers discovered a hole in the ozone layer in the mid 80s there was international cooperation to ban the offending chemicals and the hole recovered. Many meteorites (including Lunar and Martian) and dinosaur remains are being found and studied.
Walker says if we humans look honestly into the Antarctica's ice mirror we'll see how small we are and perhaps learn humility which is the first step towards wisdom.
My husband and I found Walker's descriptions of the places, people, wildlife and research so captivating we could not put her book down.
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