3 Nonfiction Ice Stories to Remind You of How Winter Used to Be

The Coil
Published in
5 min readOct 21, 2016


BY RICHARD DERUS (ExpendableMudge)

The data are in. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) crunches monthly actual temperature and rainfall numbers, summons up graphical representations of getting on for 150 years’ worth of scientifically gathered data, consults the entrails of pigeons — Wait, no, that was Roman priests — anyway, whatever arcane and possibly even inhumane things they do, they give the waiting world a general picture of the season to come. This means Winter for us in the northern hemisphere. As we’re in an El Niño year, with a low probability of La Niña developing, something weird is probably going to happen: Quite a lot of the USA will be warm and wet (Depressingly, that likelihood is really strong in Alaska, with predictably grim consequences for permafrost.).

Oh, dear.

Fasten your seatbelts, babies; it’s gonna be a bumpy future. The climate change trends aren’t looking friendly toward the earth’s supply of ice. The earth’s atmospheric load of carbon dioxide is now permanently over 400 ppm. Yeah, so? say the deniers. That’s happened before! Yes, indeed it has! Three million years ago.

When the sea levels were 65 (sixty-five) FEET higher than they are today.

“But soft,” cry the bookish, “what light of knowledge through yon swiftly submerging window breaks? Who knows more about this than thee and me?” I’m so glad you asked.

A FAREWELL TO ICE: A Report from the Arctic by Peter Wadhams was released into the wild on September 1, 2016, just in time for that last beach visit! Thoughtful of Penguin Random House, no? And I am enamored of the corporate decision not to produce a tree book for the US market until later, if at all.

No less a source than The Guardian Science & Nature section reviews this as an important and persuasive argument for “… a Direct Air Capture (DAC) research programme [sic] on the scale of the Manhattan Project.” DAC technology effectively scrubs the atmosphere of CO₂ and converts the gas into commercially useful or merely environmentally harmless forms. Calcium carbonate, a.k.a. limestone, and cement made from it sound like perfect DAC byproducts with established technologies that use them. A Canadian start-up company is already designing and testing technologies for DAC that could make a significant positive contribution to sequestration in the not-too-distant future. Given that a “business-as-usual approach by humanity makes 2035 a plausible moment for the permafrost to melt and methane to escape,” and that “[m]ethane is 23 times more effective in raising global temperature than is CO₂,” Wadhams’ book can either be an alarm bell or a funeral tocsin for the species Homo sapiens sapiens. That wild-eyed commie tree-hugger Margaret Thatcher was a Wadhams fan, so you see that science makes its case to the intelligent in spite of insane and stupid prejudice.

ICE DIARIES: An Antarctic Memoir by Jean McNeil forms the high-albedo reflections of a Canadian journalist and fiction writer based in London. McNeil makes this extremely important point in her Introduction to the book:

The Antarctic is by far the largest accumulation of ice in the world. The Ice, as the continent is sometimes referred to — a term of affection — is, along with Greenland, the most complete frozen archive of our planet’s past.

Archives are only useful to those who will read the facts stored in them. We, twenty-first century humans, have learned the language that the archive is written in, and have done quite a lot of decoding of data stored therein. As our facility with the language of the chemistry of ice grows, so does the look of stark terror on the faces of the most fluent in it.

ON THIN ICE: An Epic Final Quest into the Melting Arctic by Eric Larsen, with Hudson Lindenberger, documents a two-man human powered expedition to the geographic North Pole undertaken by author Larsen and Ryan Waters in 2014. Eric Larsen is the only person to have skied to the North and South Poles twice, and also to have summited Mount Everest in the same year as reaching both poles. This is a serious adventurer, ladies and gentlemen; this is also a man who knows the iciest parts of our planet intimately, personally, and scientifically. Waters and Larsen will, in all likelihood, be the last human beings to ski to the geographic North Pole with no motorized assistance.

Because there will never again be enough sea ice coverage to make it possible.

Think about that.

Buy this book because it’s an exciting adventure story; because it’s gorgeously designed and produced; because there will never be another one like it.

RICHARD DERUS (aka ExpendableMudge on Twitter) is a biblioholic, a tsundoku carrier, and a passionate reader. From underneath his tottering towers of unread tomes, he blogs obsessively about his darlings at Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud, where many otherwise unknown books are praised, panned, or poked fun at; The Oak Wheel, where he blogs enthusiastically about short story collections; The Small Press Book Review; Shelf Inflicted, where he was a founding blogger; and wherever else he can find editors who need content, as long as it’s about books.



The Coil

Biblioholic, big-time reader, prolific reviewer, goofy garage veteran