pH: A Novel
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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.)

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.”



Publié par
Date de parution 03 octobre 2017
Nombre de lectures 1
EAN13 9781513260693
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

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Sometimes it takes fiction, more than facts, to hear the hard truth. In Nancy Lord s pH , a cli-fi (climate fiction) novel about climate change and its evil cousin, ocean acidification, we meet likeable and quirky characters dedicated to science and art while trapped in a system seduced by money. I learned a lot from this daring novel. And I laughed. Not a bad way to spend one s time: buried in creativity, learning and laughing.
-KIM HEACOX, author of Jimmy Bluefeather and John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire
Nancy Lord is an entrancing naturalist writer and a captivating storyteller whose factual knowledge of her beloved Alaska is impeccable. So fascinating to see how she weaves a fictional tale to remind us of the ecological and cultural issues we face on this planet.
-JEAN-MICHEL COUSTEAU, Founder and President, Ocean Futures Society
Very few novelists remember that we live on an ocean planet, and none, as far as I know, have tracked the emerging science of ocean acidification, a threat of almost unparalleled dimension. That Nancy Lord does all that and still provides a superb story is testament to her great powers as a writer!
-BILL McKIBBEN, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
Widely respected and beloved Alaskan essayist Nancy Lord has written a dazzling novel, filled with wry, sly humor, wondrous science, and intriguing characters-all driven by some of the most significant questions of our time. How can scientists defend the truth in a university corrupted by petrochemical profiteers? How can the lovely, life-sustaining creatures of the seas survive the corporate plunder of the planet? And this-how can a book this important be such a joy to read?
-KATHLEEN DEAN MOORE, author of Great Tide Rising and Piano Tide
This is a work of fiction. The characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this book are either products of the author s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text 2017 by Nancy Lord
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the publisher.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Lord, Nancy, author.
Title: pH : a novel / by Nancy Lord.
Description: Portland, Oregon : Alaska Northwest Books, [2017]
Identifiers: LCCN 2016054873| ISBN 9781513260686 (paperback) | ISBN 9781513260693 (ebook) | ISBN 9781513260693 (hardbound)
Classification: LCC PS3562.O727 P42 2017 | DDC 813/.54-dc23
LC record available at
Edited by Tina Morgan
Designed by Vicki Knapton
Published by WestWinds Press
An imprint of
Part 1
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Part 2
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Part 3
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Author Q A
Book Group Questions
I t was cold, standing at the ship s rail that early on a September morning, without a hat. Ray s annoyance at having left his wool cap in his cabin only added to his general peevishness about all things Jackson Oakley.
Puker, he said to no one in particular, as the smaller boat approached their ship.
Huh? Colin, as usual, stood attentively close-too close-as though mother-of-pearl wisdom would fall from Ray s hard mouth and he would be there to catch it.
Puker boat. You know, what they call those sport boats that take tourists out fishing, and everyone spends the whole trip puking over the side. He gave the gangly young man with watery eyes a sort-of grin, as if to say: Not like us, serious seagoers doing serious work, nothing so trivial as slapping around for sport .
He was trying as much as he could to make the best of a bad situation.
He and the others who had roused for the transfer watched as the boat, its white cabin roof bristling with an array of fishing rods, slowed. The opening into the Gulf of Alaska was righteously calm, with just the rise and fall of its oceanic swell. The mainland behind them formed a dark line like a charcoal smudge between the blue-green sea and paler sky. A couple of gulls, trailing the puker boat, flapped sullenly.
Their captain, up on the bridge wing, faced the ship into the swells as the smaller vessel jockeyed to its side. On the boat s bow, a man in clean yellow fishing bibs dangled a pink buoy over the side to protect the precious puker boat from smacking. Yellow, pink, white fiberglass-it was all very Easter-egg bright on a blue morning.
Ray avoided looking at Oakley, who was giving some final instructions, presumably, to Helen, his (Oakley s) star student. Ray was trying to mitigate his anger with relief. While on the one hand, Oakley s abandoning ship and his duties with the chemical oceanography part of their research was unforgivable, the man would be gone. As his daughter, Aurora, might have said about a school bully, good riddance to bad rubbish.
The two vessels came together with barely a bump: a sea louse nudging the side of a salmon. Oakley s duffel was pitched through the open gate, and then Oakley himself stepped through, down onto the smaller boat s bow. The vessels separated, and Captain Billy tooted his horn. Oakley, heading for the cabin, raised his hand in a gesture that was somewhere between a Marine s salute and a queen s wristy wave.
The last thing Ray saw as the other boat turned toward port and sped up was someone reaching out of the cabin to hand Oakley a bottle of beer. Or at least Ray chose to believe it was a bottle of beer. It wasn t orange juice. He resisted the temptation to perform his own good-bye wave, which would have been a middle-finger salute.
Well, that sucks.
Colin again. Ray wasn t sure how much Colin or any of the other students knew about what had transpired in the last few hours, less than a day out on their weeklong cruise. The official story-what he and Oakley had announced in the galley-was that Professor Oakley had been called back to the university. They d assured the eight students that nothing would be disrupted. Oakley had arranged for a boat owned by a friend to pick him up so they wouldn t lose research time returning to port. Helen, who d been on several cruises already and knew the sampling protocols, would take over responsibility for the chemistry work. Alex, of course, was still overseeing the wet lab. They d be a little short-handed, but everyone would chip in.
And they would. In his nine years of co-leading the University of the North s twice-yearly research cruises on the Gulf of Alaska, Ray had never had a problem with student slouches. They might occasionally pause to vomit over the side in rocky seas-it did happen-but nothing would keep his team from filling their bottles, netting their specimens, counting their copepods, getting the work done. Joyfully.
In Ray s opinion, nothing would be lost by losing Oakley. Nothing they couldn t do without.
We ll make the best of it, he said to Colin.
If things were a little more complicated, and perhaps more personal, than the official explanation-well, things always were, weren t they?
For years, Ray and others in the School of Ocean Sciences had been advocating for more attention to ocean acidification. With more coastline than the rest of the United States put together, it only made sense that Alaska institutions should lead the science. Not just in understanding what happens to ocean chemistry as the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from the overloaded atmosphere, but across all the scientific disciplines. Biology, certainly-you can t change ocean chemistry without affecting what lives in the ocean. Even physics is affected by chemistry; pH influences how sound travels underwater. So when the university president expressed an interest and came up with money to fund an office dedicated to the subject, Ray and his colleagues were thrilled-or as thrilled as a bunch of science nerds could be. The next thing they knew, the president was bragging about the top-notch chemist he d recruited to head the new office.
That would be Jackson Oakley, the man from Texas. The press release that went out praised his pioneering work in developing calibration instruments for measuring ocean pH.
Ray liked to think that he was open-minded, liberal in the best sense of the word, but he couldn t help it if his thirty-six years in Alaska had put him off Texans: their clich d but ubiquitous cowboy boots, their syrupy drawls. If oil development had-admittedly-been good for the state s finances, it had exacted enormous costs on the environment and social fabric. Many perfectly nice Texans must have come north with the industry; he just hadn t known any. In any case, his prejudice was not something he generally shared. Only his wife, the eye-rolling Nelda, ever had to listen to him.
It had been just over a year since Dr. Jackson Oakley- Oakley like the tree, Ray always thought-came to campus, and Ray still wasn t sure what he did in the new Office of Ocean Acidification Science. The man rarely had anything to say in meetings when the departments came together, instead seeming preoccupied with his laptop or tablet or phone, scrolling and tapping. He was younger than most of the professors-the aging boome

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