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A World Without Ice

by Henry Pollack
clock22-minute read
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A World Without Ice
Learn how climate change could create a world without ice. Written by renowned geophysicist Henry Pollack, A World Without Ice (2009) documents the impending threat of climate change and outlines the reasons why every human being should care.
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A World Without Ice
"A World Without Ice" Summary
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Summary by Alyssa Burnette. Audiobook narrated by Alex Smith
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in a world without ice? If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t. Ice isn’t really something we think about on a daily basis unless we’re planning a ski trip or wishing for a cold drink. But Henry Pollack asserts that a world without ice is a horrific and very realistic possibility that can have a global impact on our planet and our future. Over the course of this summary, we’ll learn why ice is a crucial resource, why it’s in danger, and why you should care.
Chapter 1: Why Should You Care About Climate Change?
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better — it’s not.”
“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”
Are you familiar with either of these pithy quotations? If you’re not, you might be wondering who uttered these sayings and what relevance they have to this subject matter of this book. You might be surprised to know that the first quote comes from beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss — specifically, from his famous book The Lorax. The second comes to us from Lao Tzu, a 6th century Chinese philosopher. But don’t worry — we’re not heading for a pop quiz about what these quotes have in common. Because the truth is that they don’t have very much in common at all. They weren’t even spoken in reference to the same thing.
But they do have one core similarity and that’s what makes them relevant to this book. Although these quotes were uttered across centuries by two very different people in relation to very different topics, both sayings were meant to serve as a call to arms. They were spoken with the intent of inspiring people, of galvanizing them into action, of encouraging a movement that would affect change. And that’s exactly what Henry Pollack is trying to do with this book. Many people who will pick up this book arealready familiar with the threat of climate change. You may have been affected by the impassioned pleas of Greta Thunberg, the data presented by scientists, and the campaigns that seek to raise awareness about the necessity of sustainable living practices. Maybe you’re familiar with all of these concepts and you’re actively invested in the fight to make the world a greener, cleaner place to live.
Or maybe you fall into a different camp. Maybe you feel that the warnings about climate change have been exaggerated. Perhaps you feel that this issue has been heavily politicized and that it isn’t as big a deal as the other party is making it out to be. But the truth is that no matter which side of the argument you stand on, climate change is an issue that affects us all. So, for the purposes of this book, let’s try to put aside our differences and our preconceived notions. Let’s try to approach this material with fresh eyes and an open imagination. Let’s really try to envision what a world without ice would be like.
Now, if you’re like most people, that thought probably doesn’t strike fear into your heart automatically. We hear all the time that the polar ice caps are melting, that global warming is affecting our environment… but the polar ice caps are a long way away from most of our daily lives. So, if they melted, would it really be so bad? And would it really be a world with no ice? Could we still have ice in our drinks? Could we still have air conditioning? Could we still have frozen foods? When we consider the concept of a world without ice, we tend to envision it first in terms of issues that would inconvenience us. But the author asserts that that’s part of the problem.
Although our worlds can often feel enormous and confusing, when we compare human beings to the vastness of the universe, our lives seem very small indeed. And problems like a lack of ice in our sodas seem inconsequential at worst. That’s why the author believes that the previously mentioned quotes are relevant. Because unless we begin to think outside the box and feel concern for issues that do not immediately impact us, we can’t hope to achieve change. But first, let’s start by learning a little more about why change is necessary in the first place. In one of the most meaningfulpassages of this book, the author presents us with his primary argument: why we should care about ice. He explains that ice is vitally important because:
"Nature's best thermometer, perhaps its most sensitive and unambiguous indicator of climate change, is ice. When ice gets sufficiently warm, it melts. Ice asks no questions, presents no arguments, reads no newspapers, listens to no debates. It is not burdened by ideology and carries no political baggage as it crosses the threshold from solid to liquid. It just melts."
So, from this description, we can see that ice itself is not a political issue. Ice is not screaming at us to do something or creating campaigns or engaging in any of the actions which many people find off putting when it comes to hot topic issues. Ice simply exists. But that’s exactly why human beings have a responsibility to learn more about this vital aspect of our landscape and how we can protect it. So, get ready, because in the next chapter, we’re going to learn all about ice!
Chapter 2: Ice and The Poles
When you think about the North and the South Poles, what information comes to mind? If you’re like me, you probably think only one thing: Santa lives at the North Pole. And, if we’re being honest, that’s the first thing that comes to most people’s minds. Because unless you’re a geologist or a scientist who specializes in climate change, you probably don’t need to know very much about the North and South Poles in your daily life. But if we’re talking about ice and its impact on the environment, it’s important to know a few key things about these places. And the author begins by establishing that the Arctic and the Antarctic are actually very different! Why? Well, in his own words, Pollack asserts that:
“The symmetry of ice in both the northern and southern high latitudes sometimes conveys a false impression that Earth’s polar regions are really quite similar. The presence of ice, however, actually masks more fundamental differences between the north and south polar regions.TheArctic and Antarctic have been described as being “poles apart,” of course geographically, but also in many other characteristics. The South Pole lies well within the continent of Antarctica, some 850 miles inland from, and 10,000 feet above, the nearest coastline.
The North Pole, by contrast, is located in the Arctic Ocean, with the seafloor 14,000 feet below and the closest coast some 450 miles away. Both poles are set in ice, but the thickness of the ice is very different. Beneath the South Pole Lies more than 10,000 feet of ice, whereas the North Pole sits on a thin 10- to 20- foot sheet of frozen ocean water, give or take a few feet. The ice in both settings is on the move, but at very different speeds— at the South Pole, the ice slips slowly over the pole at a glacial pace of about 30 to 40 feet per year, whereas the sea ice of the Arctic is swept along by wind and currents at an average speed of about 3 to 4 miles per day.”
From this brief explanation, we can already gather a few very interesting facts about ice! For starters, it’s pretty cool that an entire continent can be built on 10,000 feet of ice! And while we’re appreciating the magnitude of this fact, we can also develop a good idea of what might happen to the Antarctic if that 10,000 feet of ice completely melted away. That’s why the author believes that it’s important to paint a very detailed picture of the climate in the Antarctic and what would be lost if all the ice in the Antarctic melted. In the first chapter of this book, he sets the scene for us by explaining:
“The [Antarctic’s] aural landscape is also very different. There are no industrial sounds; no deep rumble of diesel engines; no hissing, humming, whining, or thumping; no blaring music; no honking horns or sirens. The ubiquitous sounds of the Antarctic are those of wind, water, and ice. Winds whistle at fifty, sixty miles an hour, and waves crash with great thuds on beaches of volcanic rock, or against rocky or icy cliffs. Glaciers creak and crack as they inch their way through rocky valleys. And superposed on the inanimate sounds are those of the wildlife— whales spouting, seals belching, penguins calling. Petrels, gulls, and albatross ride the wind in almost total silence.This is truly “the world without us,” a frozen part of the Garden of Eden that has been off limits to us for most of human history.
The colors of the Antarctic are unlike colors elsewhere. Whereas green is the signature color of well-watered vegetation everywhere, and reds, yellows, and tans paint Earth’s deserts, Antarctica specializes in black,white, and blue. The rock is mostly black and the snow white. Glacial ice is white at the surface, but deep brilliant blue where crevasses and fissures reveal the interior. On a cloudy day, the deep sea is dark, and when the sun shines brightly, the ocean appears a very deep blue. In brilliant sunshine the sky is a perfect sky blue, and when clouded over, it is a blank sheet of low-hanging gray. In deep fog, a three- dimensional gray shroud settles in, completely disrupting one’s sense of orientation and distance.
The Sun in the Antarctic summer is never far above or far below the horizon— it simply rides around the horizon, offering an ever- changing azimuth of illumination that casts pink hues and slowly changing longshadows that sweep across the landscape. The polar circle cuts through the Antarctic Peninsula about halfway through its linear extent. South of the circle are long stretches of summer, when the Sun never sets, and north of that line, the Sun dips just below the horizon for an hour or two, creating a very long “sunset” of delicate pinks, before returning to view and offering direct illumination once again.
Wind is erratic. A transition from total calm to gale- force winds can occur unexpectedly, the result of very cold and dense air suddenly spilling off highlands and roaring through valleys. These winds, called katabatic winds, are the atmospheric equivalent of a flash flood. They come without announcement,bluster through with abandon, and are gone within minutes. They can drive inattentive ships into rocks and flatten humans caught unaware.
But nothing quite matches the special experience of getting up close and personal with big icebergs. Conveying the scale of bergs requires reference to something you can envision, so let’s start with a ship of the type that has brought me to the Antarctic several times— an ocean-going vessel more than four hundred feet long and almost one hundred feet high. Whensuch a ship positions itself in the lee of a middling iceberg,the vessel is dwarfed, silhouetted against a floating ice island that easily exceeds the ship in both length and height. The ship becomes a miniature, not in a bottle, but in a vast field of icebergs. A ship that would fill a football stadium does not quite measure up.
Icebergs generally come either from a glacier discharging great chunks of ice into the sea, or from the margins of a floating ice shelf. The distinction is artificial, however, because the ice shelves themselves are fed by glaciers. But the shelves tend to lose the irregularity of the glacial ice that feeds them, eventually to exhibit a flat upper surface like a tabletop .When a shelf launches an iceberg through breakup or break- off, the berg retains the flat top (at least for a while), and accordingly is identified as a tabular berg. The chunks that calve from the snout of a valley glacier are much more irregular, depending on the extent of crevassing that develops in the glacier as it creeps through its valley toward the sea.
Once an iceberg is in the sea, wind and water take over its destiny. Afloat, a berg will bob up and down like a giant cork, rising, falling,swaying, and tilting in slow motion. Sometimes a floating berg will breakin two, and for a few minutes each offspring berg will slowly rock and roll in the sea, seeking a new equilibrium that places its center of gravity in a stable position below the surface. Sometimes this process leads to complete overturning that brings the formerly submerged portion of the berg to the surface. If a berg is blown into shallower water, it may run aground and await a high tide for relaunching. Or it may sit there for years, slowly being diminished by the pounding of waves. Wave erosion creates a “waterline,” where the ice and the sea surface meet; some bergs display many water lines at different elevations and intersecting angles, telling a history of grounding and refloating, and of re-equilibration following a breakup.”
Given his impressive background in geophysics, the author could devote much more time and detail to describing the climate of the Antarctic and the formation of icebergs. But for the purpose of this summary, we simply want to give you an overview that empowers you to understand theissue at hand and make an informed decision. So, if you’re now hungry for pages of detail about the development and impact of ice, you’ll want to pick up the full, unabridged version of this book! But for now, we’re going to move forward a little and learn more about the impact of a world without ice.
Chapter 3: The Impact of a World Without Ice
In the previous chapter, we were presented with a lot of detailed information about the icy climate of the Antarctic. And, as a result of this information, we are now better equipped to imagine the global impact of an iceless future. We have become desensitized to familiar phrases such as “the polar ice caps are melting.” But when we imagine the slow destruction of 10,000 feet of ice and the loss of an incredible landscape, we can see that a world without ice would have a devastating impact that far outweighs the inconvenience of lacking ice-cold beers or sodas.
However, if we really want to drive the point home, we should consider the fact that the Antarctic is only one icy climate. Furthermore, the example of the 10,000 feet of ice is, well, quite literally the tip of the iceberg! (Pardon the pun). Both of these examples are only microscopic representations of the loss our earth would experience as a result of climate change. The Antarctic is not the only ecosystem that would be destroyed. In fact, climate change in the North and South Poles is guaranteed to have far-reaching consequences for the rest of the planet. The author observes that this is because ice has powerful reflective properties.
Ice reflects sunlight back into space and this reflective property helps to maintain the temperature of the Earth. In other words, ice acts like a shield. If we lose the tremendous power of that shield, the Earth will become too warm and multiple regions of our planet will suffer. And once we lose that shield, it won’t be long before the Earth is too hot to sustain life. Put simply, when the ice is gone, humans will soon be gone as well. That’s why it’s important to learn more about climate change and do everything we can to manage its impact.
Climate change — like all types of change — is inevitable. We can’t prevent it from happening altogether, but we can learn more about its effects and the steps we can take to manage it. If we work to create a more sustainable future, we can mitigate the impact of climate change, thereby protecting our Earth and our own lives. Fortunately, cultivating a sustainable lifestyle isn’t difficult! Many major corporations are working to lessen their impact on the environment by creating eco-friendly cars, carbon-neutral shipping processes, and diminishing the amount of waste they produce. So, if we can actively support these efforts, we can prevent the horror of a world without ice.
Chapter 4: Final Summary
We might not give ice a great deal of thought in our daily lives. If we do, we tend to think about ice in relation to its impact on our lives. We think about things we enjoy on a regular basis, such as popsicles and snow-cones and ice cold beers. We think about snow days and the magic of a white Christmas. But ice has a substantial impact on our planet that far outweighs any of these things. And if global warming continues, unchecked, Earth might soon be a planet without ice.
This is a terrifying harbinger for our future for a variety of reasons. For starters, climates such as the Arctic and Antarctic are characterized by frigid ecosystems. The entire Antarctic is built on a foundation of 10,000 feet of ice! If all the ice in the world melted, entire continents could be destroyed. But if that isn’t enough of a reason to care, ice also possesses powerful reflective properties that prevent the Earth from becoming too hot to sustain life. A world without ice is devoid of that protection and this puts the entire human race at risk. These are only a few of the reasons why we should care about climate change and make active efforts to minimize the impact of climate change on our planet.

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