Sometimes it takes a journey to remote destinations to understand life back at home. For biologist Lynne Quarmby, the chance to travel to the Arctic to document the effects of climate change was also an opportunity to reflect on her own life as a scientist, activist, and educator.

Poetry, art, and the science of climate change might not seem to have anything in common, but they come together in Watermelon Snow: Science, Art, and a Lone Polar Bear. The book describes a trip that the author took to the Arctic, together with a wide variety of people interested in witnessing how the north is being affected by climate change, from a starving polar bear to shrinking glaciers.

Quarmby is a specialist in cell biology currently working as a professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Simon Fraser University. In addition to two degrees from the University of British Columbia, she has a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut.

The title of the book comes from the author’s own quest to find snow containing a particular type of green algae that, under certain conditions, turns it red like watermelon. In the end, Quarmby was unable to find the algae until after the trip was over. Still, she was able to see and document many interesting sights along the way.

Watermelon Snow alternates short chapters describing the trip to the Arctic with reflections on a variety of topics, from mining companies to the author’s forays into activism and an attempt to win a government seat as a member of the Green Party. Government and business leaders come under discussion, and the author is open with her criticism of the people who have allowed the world’s natural systems to degrade to the point that they have.

At the same time, the book is a personal reflection on Quarmby’s own role in the problems the world is facing. For example, she considers the irony of taking carbon-emitting transportation to the area of the world most affected by climate change so that she could document the effects of pollution and global warming.

Yet the author gained important insights that she shares throughout the book, both from her own work and from the writings and thoughts of others. Besides describing some of their interactions, she discusses their insights and even includes poetry composed on the journey. She concludes in the end that, although it can be difficult, she must continue on, "embracing the responsibility of being human at this singular moment in the history of Earth."

Watermelon Snow is a book which both scientists and others will find engaging despite a premise that some readers might find odd. Other than a few relatively complicated discussions of topics such as atmospheric carbon dioxide, the book is not overly technical, and even non-scientists are likely to understand it.

For anyone interested in learning more about Arctic environmental concerns, this book is worth reading.

Susan Huebert is a Winnipeg writer and editor.

Susan Huebert

Susan Huebert
Elmwood community correspondent

Susan Huebert is a community correspondent for Elmwood

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