Saturday, September 22, 2012

Lost Antarctica: Adventures in a Disappearing Land, by James McClintock

Palgrave Macmillan, 2012
256 pp
(arc from the publisher -- a huge thank you!)

 James McClintock, Professor of Polar and Marine Biology at the University of Alabama, Birmingham,  is a scientist with thirteen research expeditions to Antarctica under his belt.  His research interests lie in "invertebrate chemical ecology, reproduction, nutrition and physiology, particularly in marine invertebrates," according to his website at UAB.   His book offers readers brief glimpses into the various types of research that are going on in Antarctica, some of his own experiences while working there, and a number of observations he has made over the course of several years, most importantly the  "ecological impacts of rapid climate change on the marine life of the Antarctic Peninsula," which, as he notes,  are "inseparably linked with the environment and geography."  In Lost Antarctica, Dr. McClintock simultaneously presents some of the wonders he's discovered in working on this continent  and provides a very readable, easily understandable narrative about the present realities and possible future effects of climate change.

While engaging in some personal anecdotes about working in Antarctica from time to time, his primary focus is on the connections among life down there and the change in climate.  For example, he notes how receding sea ice is playing havoc with the Adélie penguins, who depend on the ice as a platform for catching krill.  As the ice recedes, the Adélies have to go farther offshore to find their food, causing them to have to expend much greater amounts of  necessary energy to do so.  The warm temperatures and humidity that comes with warmer air also causes unseasonable snowstorms which bury the penguins and worse -- when the snow melts, the runoff often drowns the eggs, causing a substantial drop in numbers in the overall Adélie population.

 And then there are the king crabs who are moving closer to the shelf up the Antarctic slope.  While there have been king crabs living in the deep-sea regions of Antarctica, as the climate  warms, they are moving into an area where much of the marine life has faced little threat from invading predators.   He also discusses the potential impact of the ice melt and the acidification of the ocean, all written in a very straightforward way so that the reader doesn't have to be familiar with or have to tackle scientific jargon to understand what he's trying to say.  

McClintock notes that his observations in Antarctica have served as a "wake-up call to a rapidly changing climate."  He notes that by the end of the century, the disappearance of the sea ice of the central and northern areas of the western Antarctic peninsula will lead to the disappearance of the Adélies and krill, the food on which so many species are dependent, will be gone as well.  The "seafloor organisms" will be in jeopardy from the crab invasions and the acidification of the oceans.  The chemicals that are these creatures' first line of defense will also be affected negatively, which could  mean a loss of  biomedical research potential in treatment of diseases. 

Lost Antarctica is an interesting look at Antarctica and the work that is going on down there; it's also a fine introduction to the hazards of rapid climate change. Sadly, I think that although it's quite good, it's going to be another example of preaching to the choir.  If you're already on the skeptic side of the global-warming fence, it may not change your mind,  but if you're one of those people who want to skip the heavily-jargoned and technical stuff and get right to the point of the potential effects, this book is a great place to start.

ps/I am buying a hardcover copy to keep for my home library; if someone in the US would like this ARC, I'll be happy to send it to you! Just be the first to comment below stating you'd like the book. I'll pay postage.