In the Anthropocene, icebergs have moved from the periphery to the centre of global public consciousness, their ephemerality and mutability ominously signalling the changes operating at a planetary level. The calving of a giant tabular iceberg is now understood as a political event, framed by global media headlines not only as a visual spectacle but also as a source of communal fear, anxiety, guilt, and anger. At the same time, tourists have been visiting the Antarctic region in exponentially increasing numbers – a trend that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted but is unlikely to stop. Iceberg encounters are a key part of this experience, even while the icescape itself is impacted by anthropogenic warming, to which the travel required to reach the Antarctic region is a contributor. In this chapter, I propose a new term, ‘cryonarrative’, as shorthand to describe contemporary stories that explore interactions between humans and ice, and suggest ways in which this term might help us think about the current meanings being assigned to icebergs. Within tourism and media contexts, icebergs are often subject to reductive narratives that render them as aesthetic objects for human consumption or symbols of human doom. As a counter to this anthropocentric approach, I consider the advantages of characterizing and narrating icebergs as travellers on a planetary scale whose journeys are interconnected with our own.
Sea ice in the Soviet Museum of the Arctic in the 1930s
In the 1930s, Arctic sea ice became very visible in Soviet life. Moving sea ice was recognized as an important actant in polar expeditions of different kinds: the Chelyuskin disaster, the icebreaker Krasin rescue voyage, Papanin’s drifting research station on an ice floe. Sea ice gradually stopped being seen as an obstacle in political and cultural discourses and became an element in the process of environing –transformation of nature into environment. To facilitate this process, however, sea ice needed to be carefully studied to better understand and predict its movements. Wherever possible the ice should become friendly, along with the rest of the Arctic that was also becoming friendly, as its most dangerous features were overcome thanks to human-induced transformation. This chapter considers the spaces and collections of the Museum of the Arctic, which opened in 1937 in Leningrad, with the focus on how sea ice was reimagined, depicted, and engaged with. It demonstrates how attitudes towards sea ice, and the ways of representing it that were established in the 1930s, continue to exert a powerful influence today. Icebreakers remain important objects and protagonists in the transformation of Arctic sea ice and continue to exert power as both heroic heritage and powerful contemporary symbols of Russian Arctic development and dominance.
This chapter answers the following questions: What is the mountain cryosphere? And what value does it have for ice humanities scholars? Unlike the Greenland or Antarctic icesheets, or even the Arctic cryosphere, the mountain cryosphere is not picked out by geographical continuity. Scattered across the globe, it is defined by a shared topographical situation. I argue that key geographical features of the mountain cryosphere – its near global distribution and its proximity to human habitations – render it both challenging and rewarding for ice humanities: challenging due to its dispersion and diversity – it is difficult to say something about humans and the mountain cryosphere in general; rewarding because, as homes and accessible places to visit, mountains are known in many ways, and thus present opportunities for studying multifaceted and entangled ways of knowing, experiencing, and representing ice. Of the world’s population, 13 per cent live in mountainous regions; many more depend on mountain glaciers and snowpack for water, power, and ecological and cultural services. Reflecting on the mountain cryosphere forcefully refutes the notion that ice is distant, peripheral, or marginal.
Ice cores and the temporalization of Earth system science
In oceanographer Wallace Broecker’s landmark article ‘Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming’, published in Science in 1975, ice played a crucial, yet somewhat opaque, role. By using data from the 1966 Camp Century ice core, Broecker made claims about future global warming. The ice core itself was not the heart of the inquiry for Broecker; rather it served as a frame of reference in the making of a different object of knowledge: the warming planet. Ice cores have increasingly become ‘planetary archives’ of interest to scientists beyond glaciology and they have ventured from a remote existence in the cryosphere into the models of Earth system scientists. This chapter aims to situate ice core drilling within a broader history of the making of planetary-scale environmental knowledge. By tracing early applications of ice core data in scientific practices beyond glaciology, the work of the ice core can be located in a process of temporalization of the planetary environment. During the 1970s and 1980s, ice cores became crucial elements in the efforts to synchronize multiple paleoarchives into a coherent understanding of planetary dynamics. By conceptualizing ice cores as environing media, this chapter points to the multiple stages of mediation ice cores have undergone during the postwar era and their subsequent rise as a key technology to produce planetary-scale environmental knowledge.
There is a growing effort to move beyond the documentation of ice loss and, instead, to pursue projects that protect and preserve glaciers. These direct-action strategies can be referred to as ‘glacier protection campaigns’, and they range from geoengineering activities that slow ice melting to laws and policies that protect cryo-landscapes. This chapter analyses five different glacier-saving campaigns: (1) insulating blankets on Switzerland’s Rhône Glacier (2) glacier protection at European ski resorts (3) building artificial glaciers and ice stupas in India (4) Argentina's glacier protection law (5) the granting of legal personhood status for two glaciers in India. The chapter emphasis, however, is not on technical aspects of the campaigns themselves, but rather focuses on analysing underlying narratives and agendas embedded in the media stories, news articles, lawsuits, policies, and reports about glacier protection campaigns. The chapter follows an ‘ice humanities’ approach by focusing on the representations of glacier icons and objects through these campaigns. It shows how news and media accounts about glacier-saving activities do much more than explain the glacier projects. Ultimately, the stories about glacier-saving campaigns promote certain uses of ice, advocate a small set of solutions to the climate crisis, and privilege specific actors and entities (while silencing others) who are granted authority over ice. Solutions to the climate crisis and ice loss are thus themselves transformative. They preserve ice and also alter landscapes, shift governance and environmental politics, prioritize technoscientific interventions, commodify environments, exacerbate social inequalities, and change meanings and values of nonhuman nature.
The extension of jurisdiction in the Anthropocene north
Jurisdiction in the Arctic is always connected to ice in its material and imaginary forms. In Canada, attempts to assert jurisdiction and sovereignty in the north are also part of the colonial project. As we face a warming Arctic, itself leading to different ice conditions and experiences, it is vital to remember that the colonial lens has had a significant impact on our interactions and understanding of ice. This chapter contends that, in recent years, the concern about the future of Arctic ice (and the creatures that live on it) has served the purpose of asserting colonial jurisdiction. In this practice, environmental degradation, easily recognizable in the changing ice of the Arctic, is drafted as a rationale for increasing state jurisdiction, often in opposition to indigenous ways of life. By examining the scientific legacy of the Arctic Pilot Project and the rise of polar bear deterrence programmes, this chapter will argue that contemporary understandings of the Anthropocene have been drafted by the Canadian state to not only protect a melting environment, but also to assert state jurisdiction and ensure the continuity of the settler state.
Our collection aims to contribute to what we would think of as a rapidly solidifying field called ice humanities. Taking inspiration from the blue humanities and critical ocean studies, we make the case for the distinctiveness of ice and snow. It is timely for humanities scholars to turn their attention to ice in a way that oceans and seas have become sites for environmental and geohumanities and artistic practice and scholarship. No longer regarded as peripheral, the perceived isolation and marginality of ice-filled regions of the Earth is eroding rapidly. Can a self-conscious turn to ice humanities help us reimagine the aesthetics, culture, geography, sociology, as well as settler and indigenous histories of ice? It is an ambitious and wide-ranging agenda, and this edited collection aims to serve as a point of departure, and of inspiration, for a longer conversation that needs to be had about one of the world’s most crucial objects in what is increasingly appearing as an elemental time.
Ice humanities is a pioneering collection of essays designed to bring to the fore how change to our cryosphere is imagined and experienced. By the end of this century, we will likely be facing a world where sea ice no longer reliably forms in large areas of the Arctic Ocean, where glaciers have not just retreated but disappeared, where ice sheets collapse, and where permafrost is far from permanent. The ramifications of such change are not geophysical and biochemical – they are societal and cultural, and they are about value and loss. Where does that leave our inherited ideas, knowledge, and experiences of ice, snow, frost, and frozen ground? How will human, animal, and plant communities superbly adapted to cold and high places cope with less, or even no, ice? The ecological services provided by ice alone are breathtaking. Just one example is the role of seasonal meltwater in providing water and food security for hundreds of millions of people around the world. The stakes could not be higher. This collection develops the field of ice humanities in order to reveal the centrality of ice in human and non-human life.
Encountering and knowing ice in and beyond colonial India
From the consumable slush of the plains to the glaciers of the high Himalaya, Europeans struggled to obtain purchase on Indian ice epistemologically as well as physically. Even as their encounters with ice relied on Asian people and infrastructures, however, imperial personnel came to configure consuming, climbing, and categorizing ice as markers of racial and gendered distinction. Multiple temporalities and types of motion coalesced and clashed on the ice, ranging from humans moving in different spaces and different rhythms, to the assumed actions of powerful and mysterious glaciers and gods, to instruments and texts precariously generating and bearing information. In this flux, knowledge and practices of power might congeal for a time; but only on rare occasions, and with difficulty, could they be made to stick durably. In addition, Asian ice appeared sufficiently distinctive to many Europeans to prompt or substantiate a wide range of scientific investigations and theories across natural and physical sciences. This chapter shows how ice in colonial India was ‘vital matter’, in terms of being both important stuff to various agents of empire and a lively substance that persistently slipped their grasp.
A taxonomy of ice in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America
Boston merchant Frederic Tudor became the first person to sell ice commercially in 1806. Over the course of the nineteenth century American entrepreneurs developed a great variety of uses for that product. Those uses benefited greatly from a remarkable variety of available ice. Clear or opaque, in blocks or in cubes, natural or artificial, dirty or clean, Americans both harvested and manufactured different kinds of ice for different markets. Some of this variety was the result of nature. Different quality water produced different quality ice. In fact, different parts of the same pond generally went for different prices because some parts of an ice block were cleaner than others. Similarly, water with a current produced cleaner ice than water from a lake or pond because it repelled the kinds of sediment that would stay in people’s glasses when they were done with their drinks. Some of this variety was the result of deliberate decisions by the American ice industry. Ice harvesters would drill holes in ponds and push them down to promote nature creating larger blocks. The first artificial ice manufacturers realized that stirring water as it froze produced clearer ice, for which customers were willing to pay a higher price. Yet none of these changes mattered quite so much in those many instances when their buyers only cared about price.