Scrutinizing the state of the planet is not for the faint of heart. For the scientists and writers who spend their days examining the changes taking place across the globe, relating recent developments can be a dark business. Glaciers are melting; rivers are running dry; temperatures are rising; and each new natural disaster, such as the massive Hurricane Sandy, reminds us of our precarious existence. But undeterred, these men and women continue to provide their accounts, often in the hopes of altering what appears to be a fairly grim trajectory.
Three recent books — one depicting Antarctica, another the mighty Colorado River and a third several of the most extreme environments on Earth — do this with varying degrees of success. But all of them give readers a close-up view of some the most startling shifts underway and what these mean for us and the natural world.
James McClintock has spent his professional life studying the South Pole from the unlikely perch of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In “Lost Antarctica,” he chronicles how radically the remote continent has changed since he first journeyed there in the early 1980s. During 13 research expeditions to Antarctica, McClintock has experienced fierce westerly winds nicknamed for their speeds (“the Roaring Forties, the Furious Fifties, and the Screaming Sixties”), watched icebergs calve, or break off, from glaciers, and charted the condition of copepods, the tiny crustaceans that help form the base of the Antarctic food chain.