Outstanding Academic Titles 2022: Earth Science

This week we highlight 2022 Outstanding Academic Titles pertaining to earth science

1. Ice rivers: a story of glaciers, wilderness, and humanity
Wadham, Jemma L. Princeton, 2021

This compelling autobiographical text by Wadham (glaciology, Univ. of Bristol) takes a uniquely personal approach to introducing readers to glaciers, glacier loss, and the importance of these “ice rivers” to the world. The narrative follows her as she travels to remote places in Europe and to Antarctica documenting the ecological roles that glaciers play in sustaining imperiled natural habitats as well as the world’s agriculture and fishing industries. Wadham presents a thoughtful and intimate exploration of the important relationship glaciers have with the planet and, by extension, with humanity as people confront the damaging realities of global climate change. The book is an easy read, demonstrating Wadham’s commitment to making her topic accessible for nonscientists. She accomplishes this through masterful employment of a reflective personal writing style, focusing on interactions with the people she meets during her travels, and by describing her research in a remarkably relatable way. She concludes with a helpful glossary and a selection of photographic illustrations for reference. View on Amazon

2. The life of permafrost: a history of frozen earth in Russian and Soviet science
Chu, Pey-Yi. Toronto, 2021

Alongside the melting of glaciers and the retreat of sea ice, thawing permafrost is one more indicator of climate change in the warming Arctic and subarctic regions, with implications for the carbon cycle, freshwater transport, local food webs, and coastal erosion. Rather than taking a geosciences perspective on the role and impacts of permafrost in high-latitude ecosystems, this text approaches frozen ground with a historical lens focused on Russian and Soviet science. Along the way, readers are exposed to how ideas about the environment are shaped by culture, economic practices, and politics. At its core, the book is about historicizing permafrost and understanding it as an idea from a past world, transforming it in the process into a concept that conveys multiple and sometimes competing meanings. From the outset, readers learn, it was the Russian Empire and its successor regime (the USSR) that contributed significantly to our understanding of the terrestrial ecosystems in the far North. In sum, the science of permafrost is here embedded within a historical, social, and cultural context, providing a new outlook that would not otherwise be available given the literature written by geoscientists alone. View on Amazon

3. Explorers of deep time: paleontologists and the history of life
Plotnick, Roy E. Columbia, 2022

Plotnick (Univ. of Illinois Chicago) offers a behind-the-scenes portrayal revealing what paleontologists do, why they do it, how they go about it, and the impact of their work and the field on society. The text provides an unvarnished look into the field as Plotnick draws from his extensive career and the experiences of other paleontologists across academia, government, and the private sector, including amateur collectors. The book is organized into four parts: part 1 sets straight the misconceptions with regard to what paleontology is and isn’t. The second part focuses on the nitty-gritty of how the science is done in the field and laboratory. Part 3 is about earning the credentials to practice paleontology professionally. The fourth part focuses on the integration of paleontology into a broader scientific context and looks at its role in society. The overarching theme is that paleontology has moved beyond the realm of describing fossils to become a dynamic, truly interdisciplinary science involving high-tech methods and a modern approach to thinking and scholarship. View on Amazon

4. Managing the river commons: fishing and New England’s rural economy
Reardon, Erik. Massachusetts, 2021

In this revised dissertation (University of Maine, 2016), Reardon exploits historical records, including personal accounts going back as far as mid-17th-century New England, to illustrate the colonial origins of “river commons” doctrine and the impacts of European settlers with respect to fisheries of the New England region. Through these accounts, he shows how early settlers, called farmer-fishers, used local indigenous knowledge to maintain healthy, sustainable, anadromous fish stocks. However, as populations and industrialization grew, demand increased and the household economy gave way to market forces, with impacts on the commons, including overfishing, resulting in the loss of historical fisheries. Remarkably, Reardon shows how modern approaches to fisheries management in New England recall the roots of indigenous and settler conservation and sustainability practice, having focused on removal of dams and increased management of fish takes and harvest. Such modern efforts have led to partial recovery of historical fish stocks. Reardon provides a cautionary tale of human impacts on the commons but shows that through proper management, people can overcome historical issues related to the use of a commons and restore impacted species. View on Amazon

5Measure for measure: geology and the Industrial Revolution
Leeder, Mike. Dunedin Academic, 2020

In this eclectic text, geologist Leeder (emer., Univ. of East Anglia) asks why the Industrial Revolution was successful in Britain but not necessarily so elsewhere in the world. In parts 1 and 4 (“Economy in Motion,” “Landscapes of the Industrial Revolution”), he posits that the economic well-being of a country is related to its natural resources. The resource for England, Scotland, and Wales historically was coal, located in strata dating from the Carboniferous age. Leeder recounts its discovery and exploitation in entertaining detail. To extract the coal, mines had to be dug, but owing to the geology of the strata, the mines filled with water that needed to be pumped out. The invention of steam-driven pumps resulted. Coal from the north was first carried to London by canal, but once the steam engine emerged, its use for driving trains changed the situation. The rail network and coal-powered factories transformed both raw materials and social life. Part 2 (“Carboniferous Worlds Reconstructed”) describes the historical geology of English coal. Part 3 (“Carbon Cycling, Chimneys, and Creativity”) details the art, literature, and music produced as the Industrial Revolution unfolded. Illustrations include maps, paintings, diagrams, and photographs. A glossary concludes the volume. View on Amazon

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