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After the Ice: Life, Death and Geopolitics in the New Arctic    by Alun Anderson order for
After the Ice
by Alun Anderson
Order:  USA  Can
Smithsonian Books, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

It came as a big surprise when in 2005 the 3,000-year-old, nine mile long and three mile wide Ayles ice shelf unexpectedly broke free of Ellesmere Island and started drifting around the High Arctic.

Two years later, an extra 625,000 square miles of sea ice above the previous year's total melted away at a speed no one had ever imagined possible. Covering an area four times that of California, the surprising event, dubbed the great crash of 2007, had some experts predicting that if the meltdown continued at this rate, the Arctic might be free of summer ice by the end of the 21st century.

These and similar situations inspired Alun Anderson to write this book. He states in the introduction that the big scientific questions about why these changes are occurring and what their consequences will be lie at the heart of this project. But, in the next breath, the author says, 'The soul of this book lies with the people and creatures of the Arctic. They provide its beginning and its center and make the fate of the Arctic matter.'

To collect the material he needed, Anderson traveled around Alaska, Norway, the Canadian islands and both coasts of Greenland. He visited many Inuit communities and spoke with politicians, business people, scientists, and naturalists from a number of countries with interests in the Arctic.

Condensing the information he collected was a real challenge but in six chapters (People, Ice, Borders, Animals, Oil and Ships, and Finale) Anderson shares the highlights of what he discovered.

Anderson writes that, 'The aim of this book is to provide a broad sketch of the whole, so that its different parts are recognizable and in the right places, and none are lost in an excess of detail.' He further explains that to keep the book to a reasonable length he focused mostly on the Arctic seas; thus his narrative rarely travels far into the surrounding lands.

Looking to the future, one of the central issues this fascinating book addresses is who will benefit and who will lose as the Arctic sea becomes more accessible due to global warming. Along with the reawakening of rivalries between the nations that border on the Arctic (Canada, the U.S. Russia, Norway, and Denmark/Greenland), the struggle to reap the mineral riches of this vast virgin territory will have a profound effect on the native peoples. As the ecosystem and the old ways of providing a livelihood change, new opportunities will appear which may or may not be a boon to these indigenous people.

Drawing together science, business. politics and social-economic concerns, British writer Alun Anderson has created a portrait of what the future possibly holds for this important and rapidly changing area atop the globe.

A former editor-in-chief of New Science and the previous bureau chief for the science journal Nature, Anderson marshals his findings in such a manner that this book, is a delight to read. You'll find 25 pages of sources and notes at the end of the book but it never reads like a textbook. The narrative flows cleanly and easily holds the reader's attention from start to finish.

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