September 21, 2017

Engaging and Narrating the Antarctic Ice Sheet: The History of an Earthly Body

Abstract

First explored at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Antarctic ice sheet is the largest body of ice in the world and plays a significant part in the earth’s atmospheric and oceanic processes. With its massive spatial and temporal scales, the ice sheet has challenged human attempts to conceptualize and understand it; the ice sheet’s dynamic responses to global warming have further challenged understanding. While there has been a substantial increase in knowledge, there has also been a continuous thread of dealing with the unknown and imaginative aspects of the ice sheet. This article explores the history of scientific engagements with and narrations of the Antarctic ice sheet since the early twentieth century. It looks at two aspects. First, it examines the ways in which explorers and scientists have come to understand the ice sheet as a spatial entity, particularly noting the limits of human engagements along lines of movement with particular technologies. Second, this article examines the ways in which the ice sheet has been understood as an entity in time, a stable or unstable earthly body with geo-histories and potential futures, with changing narrations over time. I argue that we must recognize that the Antarctic ice sheet, although manifestly objective and present in the world, had to be conceptualized and made.

by Alessandro Antonello

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