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The Ice at the End of the World

The Ice at the End of the World: An Epic Journey into Greenland’s Buried Past and Our Perilous Future

Jon Gertner
Random House
2019
445 pp.
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Although Greenland occasionally figures into news stories and debates about rising sea level and a warming Earth, the relevant historical background rarely enters into such discussions. Consequently, many fascinating elements of the island’s story that could capture the interest and attention of the public have lain dormant. Jon Gertner’s compelling book, The Ice at the End of the World, addresses this paucity with intelligence and insight.
The book is divided into two parts.

Part 1, “Explorations,” describes expeditions that took place near the turn of the 20th century. Gertner conveys the psychological and physical struggles these individuals suffered through, as well as their exhilarating successes, with a realism that acknowledges the emotional and physical toll of these endeavors. In Part 2, “Investigations,” Gertner chronicles the evolution of scientific studies of the Greenland ice sheet between 1949 and 2018. Detailed here are the challenges that were surmounted to obtain continuous ice cores suitable for establishing a chronological record and that would provide material for laboratory analyses.

Gertner also describes the evolution of technology that expanded our knowledge of the physical properties of Greenland’s ice and enhanced our understanding of its dynamics. He communicates the importance of these accomplishments through candid observations from those involved.

Without judgment or comment, Gertner provides details worthy of philosophical reflection about the influence that military pursuits have had on the ability to conduct research in remote settings and how we value science. In the book’s closing chapters, he discusses global warming, describing the controversy of whether rapid climate change has ever happened or even could happen. He also articulates its staggering implications.

Greenland and its ice will remain a place rich with opportunities for research and investigation, and Gertner’s excellent book is a must-read for those who are curious about the history of exploration and the pursuit of science there.

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For a full-length review of The Ice at the End of the World, see “A remote region, revealed,” Science 364, 1241 (2019).

About the author

The reviewer is at the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA 95616, USA, and the Department of Geoscience, Aarhus University, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark.