The Whale and the Supercomputer

On the Northern Front of Climate Change

Charles Wohlforth

North Point Press

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

A traditional Eskimo whale-hunting party races to shore near Barrow, Alaska--their comrades trapped on a floe drifting out to sea--as ice that should be solid this time of year gives way. Elsewhere, a team of scientists transverses the tundra, sleeping in tents, surviving on frozen chocolate, and measuring the snow every ten kilometers in a quest to understand the effects of albedo, the snow's reflective ability to cool the earth beneath it.

Climate change isn't an abstraction in the far North. It is a reality that has already dramatically altered daily life, especially that of the native peoples who still live largely off the land and sea. Because nature shows her footprints so plainly here, the region is also a lure for scientists intent on comprehending the complexities of climate change. In this gripping account, Charles Wohlforth follows the two groups as they navigate a radically shifting landscape. The scientists attempt to decipher its smallest elements and to derive from them a set of abstract laws and models. The natives draw on uncannily accurate traditional knowledge, borne of long experience living close to the land. Even as they see the same things-a Native elder watches weather coming through too fast to predict; a climatologist notes an increased frequency of cyclonic systems-the two cultures struggle to reconcile their vastly different ways of comprehending the environment.

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

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The Whale and the Supercomputer
CHAPTER ONEThe WhaleTHE BRINK OF THE SHOREFAST SEA ICE cut the water like the edge of a swimming pool. A white canvas tent, several snow-machines and big wooden sleds, and a sealskin umiaq whale boat waited like poolside furniture on the blue-white surface of the ice. Gentle puffs rippled the open water a foot or two below, except near the edge, where a fragile skin of new ice stilled the surface. Sun in the north reached from the far side of the lead, backlighting the water and picking out the imperfections in this clear, newborn ice with a contrast of yellow-orange

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Praise for The Whale and the Supercomputer

"The ancient heart of arctic Alaska beats loudly in The Whale and the Supercomputer. Charles Wohlforth writes passionate advocacy in brilliant prose, very much in the tradition of Peter Matthiessen and Barry Lopez, that is, inimitably. The Iñupiaq Eskimo’s vigilant concerns, ideas, know-how--side by side with modern science’s approach to the profound effects of climate change--are brought to readers with unalloyed power to disturb and enchant in equal measure. Mr. Wohlforth is an indispensable environmental journalist." --Howard Norman, author of The Bird Artist and My Famous Evening

"Charles Wohlforth has sent us a fascinating dispatch from the front lines of global warming. With this satisfying blend of adventure and philosophy, he paints a rich and often surprising picture of life at the edge of the world. And, by showing us two cultures struggling to grasp the epic changes upon them, he tackles fundamental questions about the nature of knowledge itself, and the purpose of seeking it." --Barbara Freese, author of Coal

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About the Author

Charles Wohlforth

Charles Wohlforth, formerly a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Outsideand The New Republic. He is a life-long Alaskan.

Charles Wohlforth

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The Whale and the Supercomputer
On the Northern Front of Climate Change
Charles Wohlforth

Award

Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize - Nominee, L.A. Times Book Prize - Winner

e-Book Agency

e-Book Agency
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
North Point Press
May 2005
e-Book Agency
ISBN: 9781429923743
ISBN10: 1429923741
336 pages
$7.99

Trade Paperback

Trade Paperback
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
North Point Press
May 2005
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9780865477148
ISBN10: 0865477140
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 336 pages
$22.00
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North Point Press

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