Thale Damm-Johnsen reviews 'Ice Rivers' by Jemma Wadham

Thale Damm-Johnsen

Durham University

A letter to the ice

I remember the first time I sat foot on a glacier. The thrill of knowing that I was standing on something massive, crevassed, that also moved slowly under my feet left me with a sense of awe-inspiring fear. For me that was a feeling that filled my whole torso, made my knees go weak and made every trivial thought I had in my head to vanish. There are few other things that can forge that feeling, but Jemmas Ice River manages to recreate it, through a glistering language and with a mesmerizing talent for storytelling , that manages to connect the world of humans to the world of glaciers.

But if you thought Ice Rivers is a book solely about glaciers, you are mistaken. It is also a book about a girl finding her path in life, after a challenging childhood in north of Scotland. As a master student, she is almost by coincidence brought on a field expedition to the Swizz alps and she experiences a love at first sight, not just for the moving mass of ice hanging down the mountain sides, but also to the work, the people and to the millions of questions that it is unavoidable to pose, when catching a glimpse of a glacier.

Throughout the book we follow her on daring expeditions to Svalbard, Greenland, Himalaya, Patagonia and Antarctica, and woven into these glacier-meetings are stories from Jemmas personal and scientific life, and there are rarely much divergence between the two. As we increasingly get to know the glaciers she is researching, and their cause and effect on the surrounding environment, we get to know Jemma. Her honesty about the ups and downs in her life is inspiring – as a reader you immediately feel trusted, as a good friend. She vividly describes great friendships and the feeling of reward after a great field season is over, however she attempts in no way to rose paint how difficult it sometimes can be. The physically exhausting fieldwork, how endeavoring and sometimes right-out dangerous glacier research can be. She also describes how she ventures into a workaholic-lifestyle, that takes her to Antarctica at a time when her mother gets sick and eventually is close to killing her.

I dare say, whether you are a senior glaciologist or just locked eyes on the book because of its striking turquoise cover: when turning the last page of this book you will have a better understanding of the world of glaciers than you did when opening it. How vital and diminishing glaciers can be to life both in the ocean and on land, and also about the secret life within and underneath the glacier itself.

Alt ending 1 (have I taken this from the book?)
What dawned on me after reading the book, is that glaciers are a bit like people: conditioned by a certain set of physical and chemical laws, influenced by a changing environment, as well as consisting of billions and billions of microorganisms. Whether or not this metaphor was Jemma Wadhams intention is hard to say, but what it does, is creating an immediate connection to the wild world of ice.

Alt end 2.
Earths glaciers are, with very few exemptions, shrinking, changing and disintegrating at a massive rate by the rising global temperatures, and there is a prominent possibility that they won’t be around for future generations to witness. If the future of glacier is as grim as we suspect and we are exceeding a global temperature window where glaciers no longer will be present on this earth, at least we’ll have Ice Rivers – giving a glimpse of a feeling only a glacier can create.

Ending alt 3.
If you are an aspiring climate scientist and find yourself on a normal and potentially stressful weekday, in doubt about why you are studying glaciers. Ice Rivers provide as an excellent reminder, and I would recommend to have a copy with in close reach at your desk