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At the Top and Bottom Of the World in Photos

Photographer Galen Rowell takes on the planet's remotest, harshest environments

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By Galen Rowell

University of California Press


Rudolf the reindeer lives at the North Pole. After that, distinctions between the top of the world and the bottom are less explicit.

The most likely mental image of the polar regions, which make up about 15 percent of the planet's land area, is of frigid, undifferentiated wastelands. Award-winning wildlife photographer Galen Rowell dispels this common notion in a series of thoughtful photographs and informative word pictures.

The first section of his book juxtaposes photographs of the Arctic and Antarctic, producing many educational surprises. For example, a small ice spur seems to tower above the snowy Arctic terrain, while the large sun-streaked dome of the United States' Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is eclipsed in a crater-like basin of ice and snow.

Rowell omits buildings from his northern views because they cannot be permanently erected in the Arctic. The North Pole is located in the center of an ocean, amid pack ice that drifts at more than one mile per hour. But the South Pole is located 9,300 feet inland, in the middle of a continent surrounded by oceans. Antarctica's thick ice sheets give it the world's highest mean elevation. Here glacial ice moves at a sedate 30 feet per year, allowing permanent buildings to be constructed.

Rowell refers to the Far North as America's Serengeti, and shows caribou running through a lush summer meadow. Cut off from the evolution of mammals that eventually populated the north, Antarctica has no warm-blooded land animals. Correspondingly, Rowell pictures chinstrap penguins on an iceberg near the world's largest rookery, Zavadovsky Island.


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