The past, present, and future of the ice clock on the world’s largest island.
Journalist Gertner (The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, 2013) made six trips to Greenland to research this penetrating and engrossing book. The Greenland ice sheet, two miles deep in some places, is “composed of nearly three quadrillion…tons of ice.” The author recounts the key 19th-century expeditions to explore the daunting, often harrowing, inner ice shelf. He is especially strong in his descriptions of the brutal cold, winds, ice floes, crevices, frostbite, lost toes, starvation, and loneliness that explorers have experienced over the decades. In 1888, Fridtjof Nansen and a small team dragged heavy sledges over ice peaks as high as houses to become the first to “cross Greenland’s ice sheet.” He was quickly followed by Robert Peary, the first to explore Greenland’s mysterious northern border, a 1,200-mile trek. Knud Rasmussen and Peter Freuchen’s explorations, which gathered valuable “ethnographic research on the Inuit,” marked the transition from merely exploration to scientific investigation. Alfred Wegener’s 1912 expedition “pushed the cause of Arctic science forward” and featured research on seasonal temperatures. One scientist presciently pondered that if all the ice melted, the oceans across the globe “would rise more than 25 feet.” Gertner next traces the many expeditions and scientific bases that were established and the use of deep drilling techniques to take sample ice cores all the way to bedrock. Scientists began to record temperatures gradually rising all over the island. Then, in 2012, using NASA’s satellites, a polar scientist made a frightening discovery: “We realized the entire surface of the Greenland ice sheet had melted.” Water was running to the sea, increasing the calving of glaciers in Greenland and the Arctic. Something “immense and catastrophic” had been set in motion and “could not be easily stopped.”
A captivating, essential book to add to the necessarily burgeoning literature on global warming.