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Why Aren’t You Reading Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson?

Now her group sat or stood wandering the room, chilling down in the grey light. The matted reindeer hair of the sleeping bags looked woefully inadequate. Val went back around the corner and sat on Wilson’s cot. She stared at Scott’s empty bed. She had misjudged these men; she had taken other people’s casual superior judgments and accepted them. As if the people who had lived before them in time were somehow smaller because they had lived earlier. Looking through the wrong end of a telescope and saying But they’re all so small. Following their footsteps and then thinking that what they had done was a pointless as following in people’s foot steps. As if they had not been as inteligent and cultured as any living human, and in many ways far more capable. Walk sixteen hundred miles in Antarctica and then judge them, she thought drowsily, head resting against the wooden wall. She heard the voices of her group as the conversation of those odd Brits, those straitlaced young men, strong animals, complex simplicities, running away from Edwardian reality to create their own. Say it was an escape, say it was Peter Pan; why not? Why conform to Edwardian reality, why march into the trenches to die without a whimper? In this little room they had made their world. The first Antarctic chapter of the Why Be Normal Club. Happy at the return of some distant party which had been out of touch for weeks or months, out there on one crazed journey after another, pointless and absurd – the pure existentialism of Antarctica, where they made reality, or at least its very meaning. The pathetic fallacy of the Edwardians or the pathetic accuracy of the postmoderns; nothing much to choose between them; certainly no priority, either of heroic precedence or omniscient subsequence. Just people down here, doing things. Flinging themselves out into the spaces they breathed, to live, to really live, in this their one brief life in the world. They had been in no one’s footsteps.

Click on the image to learn more about the location this excerpt takes place.

The book from which the above text is from and of which I am currently reading, is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Antarctica. Written in 1998 directly after his much acclaimed Mars trilogy and really connecting those books to his next trilogy, in spirit at least, the Science in the Capital series; 40 Signs of Rain, 50 Degrees Below, and 60 Days and Counting. Geology majors will love this book. Its descriptions of the white continent are so vivid I sometimes found myself shivering from imagined hypothermia.

Between it’s covers you will find a story told from the perspective of a trio of main characters. Wade is Aid to Senator Case, a eccentric politician who sends his employee down to Antarctica to investigate rumors of strange goings on in the midst of renegotiation of the Antarctic Treaty. Val and X are former lovers, she being a tough yet feminine cold weather guide, and he being a disillusioned General Field Assistant. Their stories will all intertwine around a plot to decide the future of the last great wilderness.

Check it out here on Amazon for as cheap as $0.01 plus $3 shipping.

Circumpolar Currents on Mars

I’m adding a new tag called “Things I want to get back to” or maybe “future thoughts”.  Here’s one: If we melted the polar cap on mars and raised the temperature enough to sublimate the water into an ocean, should we think about the structure of said ocean? Let me back up a bit. I’m studying Historical Geology right now, specificity in the Palogene, around when the ice cap began forming over the continent of Antarctica. There was a significant process that occurred in this era that changed global climate in the most drastic of ways. This was the creation of the circumpolar current, a spinning ring of water encircling the southern continent, isolated and freezing cold. It was created when Australia separated from the antarctic and Drake’s passage opened up allowing water to flow freely around the entirety of the south pole.

Now, before this current came into being, the world was sub tropical almost from pole to pole, even the islands around what is today Greenland stayed above freezing in the winter, and had alligators! This current created a world wide temperature gradient that was steep and unforgiving. But all of this has nothing to do with Mars.

Or does it…

The topography of Mars is such that the northern hemisphere is much lower than the southern one. This basin would be a natural place for water to collect into an ocean if the human race is ever able to raise the temperature and pressure on the surface of the red planet. Interestingly enough, this northern ocean may have the possibility of generating a similar circumpolar current. Maybe there is a thesis somewhere in there.