Book review: The Continent of Antarctica (Julian Dowdeswell and Michael Hambrey, Papadakis, 2018)

The Continent of Antarctica. Julian Dowdeswell and Michael Hambrey.

Antarctica was the last continent to be discovered and explored, and is sensitive and vulnerable to climate change. It is relevant to all of us, since it can influence ocean currents and sea levels. The history of the continent, both geological and human, is fascinating, with heroic attempts to map and explore the continent.

In The Continent of Antarctica, Julian Dowdeswell and Michael Hambrey provide an in-depth overview of the continent of Antarctica, covering the geography and evolution of Antarctica, its people and exploration, and its future. This book, aimed at the interested non-expert reader, is beautifully illustrated with photographs by the authors and provides a detailed introduction to readers illustrated in the Antarctic continent. Throughout the book, personal stories and reflections from the two careers of the authors in Antarctica are used to highlight and enrich key points, and make it engaging throughout.

The language is accessible, but the content is carefully and thoroughly researched. The book is strongly grounded in science, but there are sections on human interaction with Antarctica and geopolitics. Both authors are talented photographers who have been working in Antarctica for decades, with many field seasons between them. This has resulted in a rich archive of photography, used throughout the book.


The book includes twelve chapters. The first is an Introduction to Antarctica, which covers the context, location, history and geopolitics of Antarctica. Chapter 2 covers the Geography of Antarctica, which covers the physiography and environment of Antarctica, with detailed maps of place names. The three ice sheets (East Antarctica, West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula) and the sub-Antarctic islands are described and characterised.

Chapter 3 covers the geological Evolution of Antarctica, and begins with the history of geological exploration in Antarctica. Then the history of the Antarctic continent, with its movement towards the poles as part of the Gondwana continent and subsequent break-up, are described. The chapter goes on to discuss Late Cenozoic volcanic history and then glaciation of Antarctica.

Chapter 4 covers the weather and climate over Antarctica, with some photographs of typical snow forms (e.g. sastrugi, fluted snow, wind ripples), before going on to discuss evidence for climate change in Antarctica.

Chapter 5 covers Ice Sheets and Glaciers. This chapter assumes little prior knowledge, introducing glacier mass balance, types of glacier, ice flow, and the ice sheet surface, before introducing how glaciers erode, transport and deposit material.  Finally the chapter introduces the record of past glaciation in Antarctica, and the sensitivity of the Antarctic ice sheet to climate change.

Chapter 6, The Emerging Landscape, introduces the landscape buried by the Antarctic Ice Sheet, glacial processes, glacial landforms, mass movements and periglacial processes and other landscape features such as coasts and volcanoes.

Chapter 7, The Southern Ocean, its Sea Ice and Icebergs, discusses the bathymetry of the Southern Ocean, ocean currents and circulation, sea ice formation, icebergs and calving processes (including ice-shelf collapse), and human uses for icebergs.

Chapter 8, Life in a frigid environment, talks about Antarctic ecosystems, marine life, seals, sea birds, and of course, penguins. These organisms are described and photographed. However, this chapter is more of an illustrative guide rather than a bird watcher’s handbook. Exploitation and conservation are covered at the end of the chapter only.

Chapter 9, The Last Frontier, covers the exploration and human history of Antarctica, with discussion of the arduous early explorers and their achievements. Some of the early photographs from this “Heroic Era” are reproduced in the book. The history of whaling, and the role of Antarctica between and during the World Wars, is also covered.

Chapter 10, Living and Working in Antarctica, draws on the authors’ extensive experience of undertaking arduous fieldwork in Antarctica. Life on a research base and research ship is described, providing insights into a community that few will have the opportunity to visit. The authors also describe life in a deep field camp, where parties may remain for weeks or months at a time.

Chapter 11, Managing Antarctica, explains the role of the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research in managing research in Antarctica. This chapter discusses the geopolitics of Antarctica, with territorial claims to the continent and the Antarctic Treaty system. Environmental protection and the role of NGOs in Antarctica are also discussed.

Chapter 12, The Future of Antarctica, evaluates the future of Antarctica in the face of climate change. The influence of climate change on biota, invasive pests, heritage and preservation, and the threats presented by pollution and Antarctic visitors are discussed.


The Continent of Antarctica is a beautiful book, well presented and beautifully illustrated, that will suit anyone with an interest in Antarctica. It is written for the non-expert but is comprehensive and well researched. The language is accessible and the breadth of content impressive. It is wide-ranging, expertly written and richly illustrated, and highly recommended to anyone with an interest in Antarctica.

You can purchase the book on Amazon: (currently £17.75)

Publishers’ Details

More information on Publishers’ website

  • 255 x 255mm
  • 298 pages
  • Hardback
  • ISBN: 978-1-906506-64-3
  • £35.00
  • Subjects: Science & Nature, Travel, Geography
  • Available now

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