The overwhelming image I'm left with after reading this book is that of the sea breathing. Much of the science here is the taking in and giving out of various elements and molecules by water, be it in Antarctic lakes, the ocean, or rivers and the global water bodies in general. Green traces the chemistry of water and where it comes from and where it disappears to. He also paints the picture of the Antarctic he studies, its vastness and stillness and sterility.
The story is mostly science and poetry. I feel like the emphasis was more on the poetry. Green got to write up his science in scientific papers. This book was his opportunity to let loose, to try to convey the magic he sees in his research and in his work. There are bits of memoir, but they mostly show up in the vivid dreams he recorded while he was "on the continent". I felt like they were part of the poetry.
The science that's there is clear and accurate, while spiced with more poetry. But that's what makes this a beautiful, inspiring book. He lets us in on the questions, the mysteries in his field. The world's rivers dump copper and calcium in the ocean, but the ocean doesn't have much copper or calcium in it. So where does it go? How the the ocean cleanse itself?
The research summer in Antarctic is pre-internet, pre-phone service down south, so the whole thing has a ring of the ancient to it that would be entirely missing from a similar tale today. And the forward from 2008 to the edition I read that Green added to actually mention global warming lends more context to it, but the work exists in and of itself outside of time, the way Antarctica is described.