A richly informative memoir from a veteran scientist who has devoted his career to Antarctica.
McClintock (Polar and Marine Biology/Univ. of Alabama, Birmingham) has undertaken 13 research expeditions to the far south, perhaps a record, and he writes an entertaining account, mixing anecdotes of these complex, often dangerous operations with their discoveries of the abundant life that thrives around a barren, frozen continent. Long periods of sunlight and circulation patterns that bring nutrients up from the bottom make icy southern seas far more productive than the tropics. At the bottom of the food chain are microscopic plants (phytoplankton) whose photosynthesis converts the sun’s energy to food for microscopic animals (zooplankton) and vast numbers of small shrimplike organisms (krill), which support innumerable invertebrates, dozens of species of birds, fish, whales, seals and penguins. Inevitably, global warming is exerting its baleful effect. Glaciers are melting. Sea ice is receding. The same increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide that heats the earth is dissolving into the ocean, making it more acidic, damaging the carbonate shells of sea creatures and disordering their metabolism. Simultaneously, organisms from the north are migrating into slightly warmer Antarctic waters whose species, too finely tuned to their surrounding to adapt quickly, are dwindling. Entertaining natural history.