Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Nature Polar Regions

Watermelon Snow

Science, Art, and a Lone Polar Bear

by (author) Lynne Quarmby

McGill-Queen's University Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2020
Polar Regions
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2020
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


Concern about the climate crisis is widespread as humans struggle to navigate life in uncertain times. From the vantage of a schooner full of artists on an adventure in the high Arctic, biologist Lynne Quarmby explains the science that convinced her of an urgent need to act on climate change and recounts how this knowledge - and the fear and panic it elicited - plunged her into unsustainable action, ending in arrests, lawsuits, and a failed electoral campaign on behalf of the Green Party of Canada.

Watermelon Snow weaves memoir, microbiology, and artistic antics together with descriptions of a sublime Arctic landscape. At the top of the warming world, Quarmby struggles with burnout and grief while an aerial artist twirls high in the ship's rigging, bearded seals sing mournfully, polar bears prowl, and glaciers crumble into the sea. In a compelling narrative, sorrow and fear are balanced by beauty and wonder. The author's journey back from a life out of balance includes excursions into evolutionary history where her discoveries reveal the heart of human existence. The climate realities are as dark as the Arctic winter, yet this is a book of lightness and generosity. Quarmby's voice, intimate and original, illuminates the science while offering a reminder that much about the human experience is beyond reason.

Inspiring and deeply personal, Watermelon Snow is the story of one scientist's rediscovery of what it means to live a good life at a time of increasing desperation about the future.

About the author

Lynne Quarmby is professor of cell biology in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Simon Fraser University.

Lynne Quarmby's profile page


  • Winner, Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Editorial Reviews

"Take a trip to the top of the world through the eyes of an impassioned scientist who experiences the unique landscape first-hand and, as an activist, mourns the loss of a frozen world that once was. This is a must-read for anyone concerned about the rapid changes taking place in the Arctic as it warms and the implications for the rest of the planet." Bob McDonald, host of CBC Radio's Quirks and Quarks

"We cannot hold in our minds for long the image of our own extinction. Lynne Quarmby's profound elegy arises from a terror we can barely articulate. Alternately lyrical and literal, her exquisitely crafted writing does not comfort us, but it restores us to ourselves. The beauty of her gift is that it cannot be completed unless we act." Keith Maillard, author of Twin Studies: A Novel

"Lynne Quarmby is the most unusual of scientists. For one thing, she can write complex science, explaining cellular biology in ways that illuminate and entertain. For another, she is brave enough to face arrest to fight a pipeline. But this book is her bravest act yet – exposing a heart of knowing pain, a heartbreaking awareness of our collective unprocessed grief." Elizabeth May, former leader, Green Party of Canada

"[Quarmby] presents the wonder of the Arctic and the agony of this existential threat through routine and ritualized actions of individuals and groups of people in loosely affiliated alliances. The reader cannot help but want to visit Svalbard—the Arctic island setting of Quarmby's narrative—and witness in person the raw beauty she describes, along with experiencing the sadness of awakening to the unprecedented melting evident all around. This book deals deftly with the most pressing concern facing us today. Watermelon Snow is a masterpiece. Essential. All readers." Choice

"Quarmby is a well-respected scientist and yet she knows that the stories we live by determine our actions more than the scientific knowledge by which we come to understand the bits and pieces of life. A literary and scientific tour de force, right from the incantatory opening poem by Mary Oliver (The Uses of Sorrow) to the final words, "I keep on, embracing the responsibility of being human at this singular moment in the history of the Earth."" Focus on Victoria

"Quarmby writes beautifully, with a particular fondness for colour. At times, she's an endearingly geeky scientist, who compares E. coli to drunken revellers and is utterly unafraid to admit that she once penned a villanelle for Anton van Leeuwenhoek (who discovered microbes)." Literary Review of Canada

"Channeling passion and science into a "search for life beyond despair," Watermelon Snow is a powerful book. Quarmby warns of the devastating, facts-based inevitability of climate change, with guarded hope that human beings will act in time to avert the worst scenarios." Foreword Reviews

“Watermelon Snow is a powerful and evocative work … [Quarmby]’s engaging storytelling makes the book highly digestible and readable and the themes understandable. This is a work that will undoubtedly resonate with anyone interested in climate politics, science, and justice.” H-Environment

"A powerful journey, brimming with intelligence, love, and sorrow, into the Arctic, and into the heart of the climate change battle. Watermelon Snow is a song of both love and grief, as haunting as the song of the seals that Quarmby hears on her polar voyage. Embracing science, art, activism, and the poignant creativity of humans, Quarmby evokes the almost unimaginable beauty of the polar north while calling us to be the clear-eyed witnesses the earth needs right now, to fight climate change, and to preserve the living wonders of the earth – from molecules to polar bears – before it is too late. A moving and courageous memoir." Shaena Lambert, author of Petra and Oh, My Darling

"Watermelon Snow is a moving book, eloquently dancing between the science and emotion that defines life in a warming world, and offers a glimpse at what we must overcome if we are to soldier on in search of solutions." Policy Magazine

"Quarmby writes intelligently in a style that lay readers will find accessible. Her voyage crystallizes her own inner contradictions. There's acclaim for the eco-warrior academic, but heroism often comes at a cost. Compassion fatigue is part of the script: she comes to understand that most battles aren’t clearly won, the brawling gets ugly and it's a long game. Self-justification, well-deserved renown for standing up and making a difference, an existential search for answers, it’s all in this memoir." The Ormsby Review

"A deeply personal journey into the heating Arctic, climate change activism and science, Watermelon Snow is a powerful expression of how a scientist learns to cope with the realities of climate change." Krirsten Zickfeld, SFU Distinguished Professor in the Department of Geography at Simon Fraser University, and lead author of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees and the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report