When Water Speaks: quotes from A Diary in the Age of Water

“As Nature tames a lake over time, one thing replaces another. As it undergoes a natural succession from oligotrophic to highly productive eutrophic, a lake’s beauty mellows and it surrenders to the complexities of destiny. Minimalism yields to a baroque richness that, in turn, heralds extinction. The lake shrinks to a swamp then buries itself under a meadow.”

Lynna Dresden

’A Diary’ is a brilliant story…Munteanu writes with fresh, stimulating style.”

CRAIG H. BOWLSBY, author of The Knights of Winter
Outlet of Thompson Creek at sunset, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

When the Permafrost Thaws…

Ice and snow cover the Otonabee River in winter, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

In my upcoming novel “Gaia’s Revolution,” one of the protagonists, Damien Vogel, contemplates in 2022 a key event from 2020 that only a few seem to take seriously:

In Siberia in June 2020, record heat of thirty degrees Centigrade, over the average of 11 degrees, collapsed permafrost and caused oil tanks in Norilsk to rupture. Over twenty thousand tonnes of diesel spilled into the Pyasina lake and river system. Damien remembers looking at the veins of red on satellite images from space. That disaster is just the beginning of what the ‘sleeping bear’ of methane hydrates promise to unleash when the permafrost reaches a critical thaw and those hydrates awaken. Melting permafrost is a quiet sleeper in the climate change procession, he considers. At a microscopic level, in the chemistry of the water and in the change in the atmosphere, a time bomb is ticking.

A decade later, Damien’s twin brother, Eric, notes that:

“Back in the ‘20s scientists started noticing major permafrost melt on the Siberian Shelf,” Eric goes on. “The melting released hydrates, which set the oil and gas companies frothing at the mouth with joy and the climate scientists spinning in a panic because of what they knew it meant for the planet. It was the harbinger of the largest methane ‘burp’ ever.”

Eric then adds:

“Permafrost thaw kicked us into this devastating global warming, Dame, and everyone—even the climate modellers—ignored it, because they didn’t have enough data. Gott verdammt! They’re all still asleep, Dame!”

In his book The Treeline, Ben Rawlence writes about the ongoing extinction of indigenous peoples in the north as the treeline migrates northward into tundra and the permafrost and sea ice change and go extinct themselves.

Ice fragments on the Otonabee River, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Methane & The Clathrate Gun Hypothesis 

Because methane is present in much smaller concentrations many scientists have mistakenly deemed it as important as carbon dioxide in the climate change equation; however, it is becoming obvious that methane poses a real and largely unacknowledged danger. Methane is twenty times more efficient in trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Permafrost—which is currently melting rapidly in the north—contains almost twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere. In the rapidly warming Arctic (warming twice as fast as the globe as a whole), the upper layers of this frozen soil are thawing, allowing deposited organic material to decompose and release methane.


The clathrate gun hypothesis is the notion that sea temperature rises (and/or drops in sea levels) may trigger a catastrophic positive feedback on climate:  warming would cause a sudden release of methane from methane clathrate (hydrate) compounds buried in seabeds, in the permafrost, and under ice sheets.

Something of this nature has already occurred in Siberia in 2020. In his book The Treeline Ben Rawlence reports the following warning by Dutch scientist Dr. Ko van Huissteden, a leading authority on permafrost:

“It is hard to measure methane release … [but] some studies have suggested that an unstable seabed could release a methane ‘burp’ of 500-5000 gigatonnes, equivalent to decades of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to an abrupt jump in temperature that humans will be powerless to arrest.” (Wadhams, 2015)

Creation of gas hydrates requires high pressure; water; gas—mainly methane—and low temperatures. Three environments considered suitable for this process to occur include: sub-seabed along the world’s continental margins; permafrost areas on land and off shore; and a process for storing methane hydrates: ice sheets. As long as the climate is cold and the ice sheet stable, the gas hydrate zone remains stable. As the ice sheets melt, the pressure on the ground decreases; hydrates destabilize and release methane into rising seawater and finally into the atmosphere.

A recent study in Science revealed that hundreds of massive, kilometer-wide craters on the ocean floor in the Arctic were formed by substantial methane expulsions. Because methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, temperatures would rise exponentially. Once started, this runaway process could be as irreversible as the firing of a gun—and on a time scale less than a human lifetime.

The sudden release of large amounts of natural warming gas from methane clathrate deposits in runaway climate change could be a cause of past, future, and present climate changes.

Latest research on the Greenland ice sheet and elsewhere throughout the Arctic has revealed major methane discharges in Arctic lakes in areas of permafrost thaw. Scientists are exploring areas where methane is bubbling to the surface and releasing to the atmosphere.

If human emissions continue at their current rate, rapidly changing ocean currents and retreating ice sheets may uncork methane from under ice caps, ocean sediments and Arctic permafrost, causing a jump in radiative forcing. Even if rapid ice sheet disintegration were to scatter large amounts of ice into the oceans, the net cooling effect would be strongly countered and likely overwhelmed. The areas that did cool would likely trigger severe weather outbreaks.

As I write, we are pumping out CO2 into the atmosphere at a rate 10 times faster than at any point in the past 66 m years, with the resulting sea level rises, extreme weather events, heat waves, droughts, unseasonal storms, and stress on biodiversity around the globe.  Research published in the journal Nature Geoscience demonstrates that “the world has entered ‘uncharted territory’ and that the consequences for life on land and in the oceans may be more severe than at any time since the extinction of the dinosaurs,” writes Damian Carrington of The Guardian.

In an interview with Guardian reporter John Abraham, Woods Hole expert Robert Max Holmes, exhorted:

It’s essential that policymakers begin to seriously consider the possibility of a substantial permafrost carbon feedback to global warming. If they don’t, I suspect that down the road we’ll all be looking at the 2°C threshold in our rear-view mirror.

Ice break up on the Otonabee River in early spring, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)


Hansen, James and Sato, Makiko; Update of Greenland ice sheet mass loss: Exponential?; (26 December 2012).

Adams, J., M.A. Maslin and E. Thomas Sudden climate transitions during the Quaternary; Progress in Physical Geography, 23, 1, 1-36 (1999)

Andreassen et al. 2017. “Massive blow-out craters formed by hydrate-controlled methane expulsion from the Arctic seafloor,” Sciencescience.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi … 1126/science.aal4500

Carrington, Damian. 2016. “Carbon emission release rate ‘unprecedented’ in past 66 m years.” The Guardian, March 21, 2016.

Hansen, James and Sato, Makiko. 2012. Update of Greenland ice sheet mass loss: Exponential?; (26 December 2012).

Portnov et al. 2016. Ice-sheet-driven methane storage and release in the ArcticNature Communications 7

Rawlence, Ben. 2022. “The Treeline.” Jonathan Cape, London. 342pp.

Sachs, Julian and Anderson, Robert. 2005. Increased productivity in the subantarctic ocean during Heinrich events; Nature 434, 1118-1121;(28 April 2005).

Sojtaric, Maja. 2016. Ice Sheets May be Hiding Vast Reservoirs of Powerful Greenhouse GasCAGE.

Wadhams, Peter. 2015. “A Farewell to Ice.” Penguin.

Flowing water in a river, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

This entry was posted in booksCanadaChoices for WaterClimate Changeeco-fictionecologyenvironmentSciencesustainabilityThe FutureWater Is and tagged arctic ice meltArctic OceanBen Rawlenceclathrate gun hypothesisClimate Changeeco-fictionecologyenvironmentGaia’s Revolutionglobal warmingice sheetsmelting permafrostmethanemethane clathratesmethane hydratespermafrostpermafrost thawrunaway climate changeScienceThe Treelinewater. Bookmark the permalinkEdit

When Water Speaks: quotes from A Diary in the Age of Water

“[My] paper on stream periphyton in Hydrobiologia could have been controversial and ultimately rejected by the scientific community; instead, it demurred to traditional science and was embraced as ground-breaking.”

Lynna Dresden

A Diary in the Age of Water is“A chilling but believable portrayal of what might happen as fresh water becomes more scarce.”


“Evoking Ursula LeGuin’s unflinching humane and moral authority, Nina Munteanu takes us into the lives of four generations of women and their battles against a global giant that controls and manipulates Earth’s water. In a diary that entwines acute scientific observation with poignant personal reflection, Lynna’s story unfolds incrementally, like climate change itself. Particularly harrowing are the neighbourhood water betrayals, along with Lynna’s deliberately dehydrated appearance meant to deflect attention from her own clandestine water collection. Her estrangement from her beloved daughter, her “dark cascade” who embarks upon a deadly path of her own, is heart-wrenching. Munteanu elegantly transports us between Lynna’s exuberant youth and her tormented present, between microcosm and macrocosm, linking her story and struggles-and those of her mother, daughter, and granddaughter-to the life force manifest in water itself. In language both gritty and hauntingly poetic, Munteanu delivers an uncompromising warning of our future.”

LYNN HUTCHINSON LEE, multimedia artist, author, and playwright
Snow melt in marsh by country road, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

When Water Speaks: quotes from A Diary in the Age of Water

“During spring thaw or fall turnover, the thermocline erodes and the changing temperature forces a lake to mix, revealing her secrets.”

Lynna Dresden

“Munteanu’s experience in bridging the worlds of biology and writing makes A Diary in the Age of Water unique in being strong and focused from both the scientific and literary perspectives.”

Overflowing marshy creek in Trent Nature Sanctuary in spring, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

Nina Munteanu on The Role of Stories in the Climate Action Movement

Jackson Creek after a fresh snowfall, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

Issue  #128 of Apex Magazine featured an interview that Rebecca E. Treasure did with me. We discussed the power of story, the use of dystopian narrative, and the blur between fiction and non-fiction to create meaningful eco-fiction. Below we talk about the role of stories in the climate action movement. For the complete interview go here:

AM: Your work takes complex topics that are nonetheless critical to humanity’s future and pulls stories with compelling characters out of them, making the science accessible, the warnings personal to the reader. This has always been one of the callings of science fiction. What is the role of stories in the climate action movement?

NM: Our capacity and need to tell stories is as old as our ancient beginnings. From the Paleolithic cave paintings of Lascaux to our blogs on the internet, humanity has always shared story. Story is powerful in how it helps us define who we are, what’s important to us, and where we are going. Stories compel with intrigue, stir our emotions, connect with our souls through symbols, archetypes and metaphor. Stories inspire action. We live by the stories we tell.

For too long, our stories have promoted a dominant worldview of exploitation and capitalism. We’ve been telling the patriarchal story of “othering” for too long; we need a new voice and a new worldview to replace our old stories of conquering and taming a “savage land” and “savage people.” When Copernicus proclaimed in 1543 that the sun did not revolve around the Earth, it took a long time for the world to accept and let go of its Ptolemaic Earth-centered view. But the world did come around eventually to the point now that this is common knowledge and lies embedded in our daily lives and language.

Storytelling about how the Earth takes care of us and how we can take care of Earth is urgently needed.

This means shifting our stories from an exploitive capitalist narrative of separation toward an inclusive partnership narrative. This means embracing a more eco-centric worldview; a worldview in which humanity is not central, but lies embedded within greater planetary forces and phenomena. A worldview that sees humanity only as part of a greater entity, as participant in a greater existential celebration of life and the elements. A humanity that must learn to play along, not bully and take over. A humanity that must embrace compassion, respect and kindness; a humanity directed by humility—not hubris. It is my firm belief that until our worldview embraces humility in partnership with the natural world—until we cast off our self-serving, neo-liberal, capitalist ideologies—we will remain hampered in our journey forward. When we change our stories, we change our lives and we change the world along with it.

This is already happening with the emergence of a strong eco-voice by writers through the feminine voice, the gylanic voice, the voice of the marginalized, of ecology and the environment itself. Authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, Annie Proulx, Margaret Atwood, Richard Powers, Emmi Itäranta, Jeff Vandermeer, Cherie Demaline, Christiane Vadnais, Pitchaya Sudbanthad, Chen Qiufan, Paolo Bacigalupi, Grace Dillon, Andrew Krivak, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Coleen Murphy … These all give Nature a face and voice to care about. And caring is the first step.

For the entire interview, go to Apex Magazine, December 10, 2021.

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

When Water Speaks: quotes from A Diary in the Age of Water

“Mankind will continue to flounder when he underestimates Nature and sees himself separate from Her. Man is having his way with Her now. But eventually She will have her way with him. When they try to hang onto water, it will slip through their fingers. That’s what water does.”

Una Dresden

“In poetic prose with sober factual basis, Munteanu transmutes a harrowing dystopia into a transcendentalist origin myth. An original cautionary tale that combines a family drama with an environmental treatise.”

Jackson Creek in early winter, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

When Water Speaks: quotes from A Diary in the Age of Water

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking the bully is your friend…You can play with the bully. But don’t make him your friend. Demand his respect. Or you will become the bully.”

Una Dresden

“Lyrical and dystopian, ‘A Diary in the Age of Water’ is as much an ode to water as it is a cautionary tale about the dire implications of climate change.”

Jackson Creek after a heavy snow in early winter, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

When Writers Use the Present—or the Past—to inform The Future in Their Science Fiction Novel

The Darwin duology by Dragon Moon Press, depicting the late 21st Century, by Nina Munteanu

In my 2007 novel Darwin’s Paradox and its 2010 prequel Angel of Chaos—dystopian tales set in an unrecognizable post-climate change Canada at the end of the 21st Century—the father of the main character lectures his impressionable young daughter about how climate change helped create the heathland scrub that replaced the mixed woodlands of the old Carolinian and sub-Boreal environments:

“What’s over there?” She points to a far, dark hill. 

“Woodland. This was all forest before the cities got built and the climate changed.” 

“Climate changed?” 

“Yes, honey.” He focuses on the distance. “Caused the revolution thirty years ago. Since then the Ecologists have virtually eliminated our greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, the planet will be feeling the effects of global warming for decades to come. Perhaps centuries.” 

“They saved the planet, didn’t they?” 

His brows knit. “Perhaps they did, perhaps they didn’t,” he says enigmatically. 

I’d originally written the novel and its prequel in the seventies, before entering university. So, you might think that I was incredibly imaginative and prescient to come up with such climate devastation. But this simply isn’t so (well, not entirely, anyway). Just as with Margaret Atwood—who says: “When I wrote the Handmaid’s Tale, nothing went into it that had not happened in real-life somewhere at some time”—I was simply reading the signs.

Margaret Atwood demonstrating a fire-proof version of her book The Handmaid’s Tale

When it came to climate change, of course, I had some help. During my days at university, studying limnology, and in the 1980s and ‘90s when I worked as an environmental scientist and consultant, I encountered evidence of a changing environment and climate; people in the environmental sciences certainly knew the dangers of climate change long before it entered the common zeitgeist.

Science fiction dystopias aren’t so much predictive as realistically projecting possibilities based on current or past social patterns (these past social patterns, as Santayana notes, have a way of returning to us when we don’t pay attention to them). This notion lies at the root of the term cautionary tale and what makes one truly harrowing or terrifying; we sense to our very core how likely these scenarios are.

My near-future climate dystopia released by Inanna Publications in 2020

Response to my 2020 cautionary tale A Diary in the Age of Water reflects this visceral reaction by readers who shared that this blur of fiction with non-fiction and sense of realism—a “this could happen” quality—totally unbalanced them and engrossed them. Comments included “unique and captivating,” “unsettling and yet deliciously readable,” “strangely compelling” “scary and comforting at the same time,” “made my heart clench,” “a book of genuine power.”

Scene from Michael Radford’s film “Nineteen Eighty-Four” released in 1984, based on George Orwell’s 1949 novel

Indeed, many successful predictions have been made in speculative fiction. In 1961, Stanislaw Lem’s novel Return From the Stars predicted the invention of the touch pad, iPhone, iPad and Kindle. The telescreens that monitored the citizens of George Orwell’s Oceania in his dystopian 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was reflected, twenty years later, in the first CCTV installed in the United Kingdom. Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report accurately predicted personalized ads, voice-controlled homes, facial and optical recognition, and gesture-based computing. Self-driving cars were showcased in many speculative books and films such as Bladerunner, and Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot.

Scene from the film Minority Report with Tom Cruise

But many speculations have also not been realized. No flying cars—OK, some companies such as Toyota, Hyundai and Tesla are working on prototypes. While NASA plans to construct a surface habitat called Artemis Base Camp so that astronauts can remain on the moon’s surface for days or perhaps even weeks, it is far from happening soon. Also, no rotating space stations and space elevator–yet.

Many envisioned totalitarian/dystopian states in speculative fiction have also not been realized (e.g. We, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, Handmaid’s Tale, Hunger Games, The Dispossessed, V for Vendetta )—though one could argue that aspects of each world envisioned by an author has occurred or is occurring in some form. One need only recall Edward Snowdon’s disclosures of NSA’s insidious surveillance to see parallels with Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. And as Margaret Atwood famously said in the quote above, nothing goes into her stories “that have not happened in real-life somewhere at some time.”

“The function of science fiction is not only to predict the future but to prevent it.”

Ray Bradbury

There are, in most cases, no technological impediments to the flying car, the jetpack, and moon-bases; only cultural ones. “These SF predictions ought to be viewed as visions of where we could be, as opposed to where we will be, or, keeping Bradbury in mind, visions of where we don’t want to go and, thankfully, have mostly managed to avoid to date,” says Steve Davidson of Grasping for the Wind. “Perhaps it’s all cultural,” he adds. Science fiction writer and futurist David Brin says that he is “more interested in exploring possibilities than likelihoods, because a great many more things might happen than do.”

In his book Four Futures: Life After Capitalism Peter Frase writes: “the importance of assessing possibility rather than likelihood is that it puts our collective action at the centre, while making confident predictions only encourages passivity.” In his 2010 essay, David Brin cites Orwell’s 1984 as a “self-preventing prophecy” that helped prevent the scenario (at least in its fullest).

George Orwell wrote his dystopian satire in 1949 about a mind-controlled society in response to the Cold War. The book was a metaphor “against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism,” said Orwell in his 1947 essay Why I Write, adding that, “Good prose is like a windowpane.” Was Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four a failed novel because the real 1984 didn’t turn out quite like his 1984? Hardly. Hugo Award-winning novelist Robert J. Sawyer argues that we consider it a success, “because it helped us avoid that future. So just be happy that the damn dirty apes haven’t taken over yet.”


Brin, David. 2010. “The Self-Preventing Prophecy: Or How a Dose of Nightmare Can Help Tame Tomorrow’s Path.” in Abbott Gleason et al. eds., On Nineteen Eighty-Four: Orwell and Our Future. Princeton University Press, Princeton, p.222.

Frase, Peter. 2016. “Four Futures: Life After Capitalism.” Verso Press, London. 150pp.

Country road in the Kawarthas during a foggy morning, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.