Charles Wohlforth
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The Whale and the Supercomputer

On the Northern Front of Climate Change

Charles Wohlforth 

Scientists and natives wrestle with our changing climate in the land where it has hit first—and hardest

A traditional Eskimo whaling crew races for shore near Barrow, Alaska, while their comrades drift out to sea; ice that should be solidly anchored this time of year is giving way. Elsewhere, a team of scientists with icy beards traverses the breadth of Alaska, measuring the thinning snow every ten kilometers in an effort to understand albedo, the heat-deflecting property that helps regulate the planet’s temperature.

Climate change isn’t an abstraction in the far north. It is a reality that has already altered daily life for Native people who still live largely off the land and sea. Likewise, its heavy Arctic footprint has lured scientists seeking to uncover its mysteries. In this gripping account, Charles Wohlforth follows both groups as they navigate a radically shifting landscape. Scientists drill into the environment’s smallest details to derive abstract laws that may explain the whole. Natives know the whole through uncannily accurate traditional knowledge built over generations. The two cultures see the same changes--the melting of ancient ice, the animals and insects in new places--but they struggle to reconcile their different ways of comprehending what these changes mean.

With grace, clarity, and a sense of adventure, Wohlforth illuminates both ways of seeing a world in flux, and in the process, helps us to envision a way forward as climate change envelopes us all.

Charles Wohlforth, who lives in Anchorage, began his writing career at a weekly newspaper in an Alaskan fishing village and developed it freelancing Frommer’s travel guidebooks and articles for The New Republic, Outside and other magazines. His experience of climate change comes from a lifetime traveling Alaska’s wilderness and towns, where nature rubs against civilization’s rim. Readers can discuss the book with him at www.wohlforth.net.

From the publisher's description