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The Whale and the Supercomputer: On the Northern Front of Climate Changeby Charles P Wohlforth
Synopses & Reviews
Scientists and natives wrestle with our changing climate in the land where it has hit first
A traditional Eskimo whale-hunting party races to shore near Barrow, Alaska-their comrades trapped on a floe drifting out to sea-as ice that should be solid this time of year gives way. Elsewhere, a team of scientists transverses the tundra, sleeping in tents, surviving on frozen chocolate, and measuring the snow every ten kilometers in a quest to understand the effects of albedo, the snow's reflective ability to cool the earth beneath it.
Climate change isn't an abstraction in the far North. It is a reality that has already dramatically altered daily life, especially that of the native peoples who still live largely off the land and sea. Because nature shows her footprints so plainly here, the region is also a lure for scientists intent on comprehending the complexities of climate change. In this gripping account, Charles Wohlforth follows the two groups as they navigate a radically shifting landscape. The scientists attempt to decipher its smallest elements and to derive from them a set of abstract laws and models. The natives draw on uncannily accurate traditional knowledge, borne of long experience living close to the land. Even as they see the same things-a Native elder watches weather coming through too fast to predict; a climatologist notes an increased frequency of cyclonic systems-the two cultures struggle to reconcile their vastly different ways of comprehending the environment.
With grace, clarity, and a sense of adventure, Wohlforth--a lifelong Alaskan--illuminates both ways of seeing a world in flux, and in the process, helps us to navigate a way forward as climate change reaches us all.
With grace, clarity, and a sense of adventure, Wohlforth--a lifelong Alaskan--illuminates traditional Eskimo and modern scientific ways of seeing a world in flux, and in the process, helps readers to navigate a way through current climate changes.
A traditional Eskimo whaling crew races for shore near Barrow, Alaska, while their comrades drift out to sea; ice that should be solidly anchored this time of year is giving way. Elsewhere, a team of scientists with icy beards traverses the breadth of Alaska, measuring the thinning snow every ten kilometers in an effort to understand albedo, the heat-deflecting property that helps regulate the planet's temperature. Climate change isn't an abstraction in the far north. It is a reality that has already altered daily life for native people who still live largely off the land and sea. Likewise, its heavy Arctic foot-print has lured scientists seeking to uncover its mysteries. In this gripping account, Charles Wohlforth follows both groups as they navigate a radically shifting landscape. Scientists drill into the environment's smallest details to derive abstract laws that may explain the whole. Natives know the whole through uncannily accurate traditional knowledge built over generations. The two cultures see the same changes--the melting of ancient ice, the animals and insects in new places--but they struggle to reconcile their different ways of comprehending what these changes mean. With grace, clarity, and a sense of adventure, Wohlforth illuminates both ways of seeing a world in flux, and in the process helps us to envision a way forward as climate change envelops us all.
About the Author
Charles Wohlforth, formerly a reporter for theAnchorage Daily News, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Outsideand The New Republic. He is a life-long Alaskan.
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