Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Book review: "Riddle of the Ice" by Myron Arms

It's probably not easy to get the average person interested in the science of large ice formations, so in "Riddle of the Ice" author Myron Arms tries to sneak his lectures in.

This book is built around Arms' 1994 sailing voyage along the eastern coast of Canada and the western coast of Greenland. It is, he makes clear, an enchanting region featuring spectacular glaciers and huge icebergs, and just enough storms to keep a small sailing crew on edge. But the trip seems to be only a ploy to draw you in. What Arms actually wants to talk about are the changing patterns of ice in the north Atlantic region, so he repeatedly interrupts the sailing narrative to talk about science.

Arms mean well he wants us all to think more about the human role in global climate change but you'd have to be really, really interested in ice to stay with his long and winding discussions of such gripping concepts as the "side channel export hypothesis," "Bond-Heinrich cycles," and the "Great Salinity Anomaly." He tries to present the topic as something of a murder mystery, but he comes to no resolution or solid conclusions other than the acknowledgment that it's a really complex subject. (Also, since I read this book 14 years after it was published, I imagine that some of the science described here has been superseded by later research.)

I did enjoy Arms' description of the sailing trip, since I wasn't familiar with the geography of this area beforehand. And Arms' contentious relationship with a young crew member named Blue, who chides the author for not being environmentally pure enough, spices up the story. But the hybrid nature of the book falls short.

If you're interested eastern Canada and Greenland, two very good books are the "The Last Gentleman Adventurer: Coming of Age in the Arctic" by Edward Beauclerk Maurice and "Two Against the Ice" by Ejnar Mikkelsen.

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