Books, Greenspace February 7, 2011 By Jordan Sayle

16 The Magnetic Northtitle39 The Magnetic North
filler29 The Magnetic NorthIt’s been a brutal winter across much of the United States, with storm after storm blanketing great stretches of the country in glacial layers of white. But at a higher latitude, there’s a different story being told. The National Snow and Ice Data Center has reported unprecedented lows in the Arctic sea ice extent for the month of December, dating back to its first satellite observations. And temperatures in normally frozen regions have been as much as 18 degrees Fahrenheit above average, making the Arctic a hotspot for increased concern.
     As Sara Wheeler tells it, the snow-capped top of the globe has traditionally found itself at the center of controversy. In her newly released travelogue The Magnetic North, she tells of the territorial disputes, displaced societies, political persecution, and cases of environmental destruction that have all centered on the Arctic throughout history. Today’s news is mirrored in countless affairs of the past. Consider that before the far north became a battleground between nations over claims to oil and natural gas reserves, it was home to a chain of Cold War era Distant Early Warning radar stations set up by the enemy superpowers and was the shortest path between the continents for potential ballistic missile launches. Or keep in mind that long predating the polar bear’s endangerment at the hands of climate change and before pollutants like PCBs found their way into the Arctic food chain, Elizabethan merchants hunted and depleted whale populations for their oil and land mammals for their fur in the Canadian Arctic.

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