The Arctic is one of the largest natural regions on planet Earth. But today its iconic glaciers and vast expanses of pack ice are slowly melting, subject to the growing threat of climate change. And its inhabitants – humans and the vast numbers of animals, plants and birds – are being affected the most. In their book, Arctic: Treasure of the North, Bernd Römmelt and Thomas Henningsen tell the story of those who are watching their natural habitats slowly disappear as global warming takes its toll. Rising sea levels, melting glaciers and thawing permafrost soils are only a few of the challenges facing the North Pole, but Römmelt and Henningsen say there are more to come if we don’t act soon.
Reading an entire book on the Arctic might elicit memories of primary school geography but that’s before you take account of the captivating photography that dominates its contents. The Arctic landscape is elegant and the wildlife not as fierce as you might imagine. The panoramas are spectacular, and almost make you forget that this is one of the harshest environments on earth. Henningsen succinctly describes the perils the Arctic region faces, letting Römmelt's stunning photographs speak for themselves. And even though his words are few, his attachment to the people and the animals struggling to survive in a diminishing habitat is evident.
The nomadic Nenets live a lifestyle that most of us would see as quintessentially North Pole. Using reindeer for transport, they hitch the animals to sleds in order to cover long distances. But that’s where the St. Nick similarities end. The deer are also slaughtered for meat - necessary for survival. Vivid images show the bloody carcasses and emphasise the harsh realities of Arctic life. Every part of the animal is used once it has been killed. Blood is turned into sausages, fur and skin into clothing and the liver often eaten raw as a source of vitamin A. The urgency with which the Nenets put together their tents portrays their struggle to survive in harsh conditions. And their hardships don't end with just the climate. Their history has been far from easy, particularly during the period when the land they occupy belonged to Russia. During that time they were attacked, killed and robbed of their livelihoods, while being forced into a lifestyle that didn't correspond with their traditional or cultural practices.
Arctic: Treasure of the North vividly documents their enthralling world – from the polar bears and the Arctic people to the captivating Northern Lights and the tiny gnats. Though the book is packed with photographs of luscious snow-covered land, making it hard to believe that climate change could make this disappear any time soon, the last few pages confirm the dangers that await. Rather than the clichéd photographs of polar bears walking with their young on pack ice, they are shown swimming through sub-zero waters. Factories emitting clouds of black smoke alongside brown grass is a shocking contrast to the beauty of the ice and snow seen throughout the book. Perhaps what lingers most, even in the face of such hardship, are the vibrant images of the Northern Lights, which make you yearn to stand in minus 42 degree celsius temperatures, watching the yellow, green and red lights fill the polar sky. The Arctic is certainly a treasure but it’s one that we stand to lose if the climate continues to change.
Arctic: Treasure of the North by Bernd Römmelt and Thomas Henningsen (£25.00, White Star Publishers) is available from Amazon
To win a copy of Arctic: Treasure of the North, click here
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