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Melt:  The Social Life of Ice at the Top of the World

Ice has become our climatological canary: the substance that renders visible rising temperatures. It can be measured, its retreats photographed, its depths plumbed and its duration—or lifespan calculated. And it is melting: nowhere faster, and faster than expected, in the Arctic. Ice’s physical changes and the geohydrological implications associated with it are now regular media features as news of catastrophic melt continues to mark our times. However, little attention is given to the social meaning of ice loss in the frozen places where it has dominated landscapes, shaped lives and conditioned encounters with land, resources and livelihoods. This study aims to address that omission. It proposes a multidimensional examination of the social significance of ice, the values associated with it, and the implications of its expiration. Research has shown that current strategies to “mitigate” the effects of climate change—such as renewable energy projects like dams, wind farms or solar arrays—have dramatic impacts on local communities where projects are sited. The hypothesis advanced in this research is that “adaptation” (the flip-side to climate change “mitigation”) is an equally consequential and socially impactful phenomenon of “the Anthropocene.”