by Nancy Lord


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When marine biologist Ray Berringer and his student crew embark on an oceanographic cruise in the Gulf of Alaska, the waters are troubled in more ways than one. Ray's co-leader, a famed chemist, is abandoning ship just as the ocean's pH is becoming a major concern. Something at their university is corrosive, and it's going to take more than science to correct. Powerful bonds are forged among offbeat characters studying the effects of ocean acidification on pteropods, a tiny, keystone species, in this cutting-edge CliFi novel. (Includes author Q&A and reading group discussion questions.)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781513260686
Publisher: Pruett Publishing Company
Publication date: 09/05/2017
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 848,828
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Nancy Lord writes from her home base in Homer, Alaska. Her work is informed by a deep connection to the landscape and culture of the place she calls home. As a commercial salmon fisherman for twenty-five years (now retired) and later as a naturalist and historian on adventure cruise ships, she takes a particular interest in coastal Alaska and the sustainability of its resources and communities. She served as the Alaska Writer Laureate from 2008-10 and is the author of nine books of nonfiction, short fiction, and memoir. pH is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt

When everyone had gone off to prepare for the night shift or to watch a movie or sleep, Helen settled into a corner of the galley with licorice from the candy drawer and began reading her advanced organic chemistry text, the section on aliphatic nucleophilic substitution.

She was still on the first page when Annabel returned—wrapped now in a pink woven shawl pinned at her chest with a green papier-mâché brooch the size of a fist. “I don’t want to bother you,” she said. “I can see you’re studying. But I’m told you’re the one I should talk to about ocean acidification. I need to understand the chemistry. Can we talk sometime?”

Helen closed her book on a scrap of napkin. “We could do it right now if you want.” She’d heard this at a conference: never pass up an opportunity to educate.

Annabel nodded vigorously, hair beads jangling. “Formidable!” she shouted in a French accent. “Tout de suite I’ll be back.”

And she was, as though she had flown to her cabin. She thumped onto the bench across from Helen and opened her drawing pad to a clean sheet. “Pretend I’m a third-grader,” she said. “I’m that stupid.”

“I doubt you’re stupid,” Helen had to say. “But stop me if I start getting too detailed for your purposes. The basic chemistry isn’t too complicated. And, by the way, you’ll be hearing us shorthand ‘ocean acidification;’ we call it OA.”

She talked, and Annabel, several rings sparkling on each hand, made chicken-scratch notes in green ink.

She wanted to make sure Annabel understood that the ocean wasn’t turning to acid, only becoming more acidic, while still being on the alkaline side of the pH scale. “Sea life evolved in a very stable pH situation. We’re asking creatures to live in a different environment now, very suddenly. This is the hard part—we don’t know exactly how individual species will respond—are responding. We know that corals are having a very hard time. And you heard Ray talking about pteropods, the marine snails. They’re very vulnerable. Anything with a carbonate shell is affected.”

She drew a carbon dioxide molecule on Annabel’s paper, then a water molecule and one for carbonic acid. “This is the thing,” she said. “In the atmosphere, carbon dioxide stays carbon dioxide. The carbon and oxygen atoms stay bonded. In the ocean, CO2 reacts with seawater. It forms carbonic acid, which releases these hydrogen ions and reduces the pH. The hydrogen ions combine with carbonate ions to form bicarbonates. Then there are fewer carbonate ions left to make calcium carbonate, the major building blocks needed by shell builders.”

Annabel was studying her crude drawing. Helen hesitated to get into the aragonite versus calcite distinction or to be specific about saturation horizons. She knew how easy it was to pile on too much, to let her passion for the subject overtake another person’s tolerance for it. Keep it simple, Jackson was always saying.

Annabel looked up. “So you could say that reduced carbonate ions lower the saturation state.”

Helen tried not to be surprised by the non-third-grade reference. “That’s exactly what we say. We say the water is undersaturated with aragonite, one of the main forms of calcium carbonate.”

Annabel said, “Ray showed me some pictures. His little animals have to work harder to form the calcium carbonate for their shells, and if it gets too bad, their shells actually start to dissolve.”

“That’s exactly right. In the Arctic we’re already seeing corrosive water.”


From Author Q&A at the end of the book:

"Science and art are both creative pursuits and are driven by curiosity about our world. Both appreciate beauty, complexity, and the unknown. I wanted to show both the tension between the two and the ways that they complement one another and even use the same tools.

I also want readers to understand the science at a basic level and appreciate its importance. I tried to present it in small parts and pieces, organically as the need presented itself, and not to let it interrupt the story’s drama. I would like for pteropods to be the 'poster animals' of ocean acidification in the same way that polar bears are the 'poster animals' for climate change."

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