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Frozen Earth: The Once and Future Story of Ice Ages Paperback – May 2, 2006


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With all the concern about global warming, it may be surprising to read that "today's climate is just a geologically short warm spell in a continuing ice age." In this lucid and informative book, Macdougall (A Short History of Planet Earth), an earth science professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, introduces some of the scientists who have studied the Earth's ice ages, including the celebrated 19th-century naturalist Louis Agassiz, who put forth the theory, revolutionary at the time, of a global ice age; the amateur scientist James Croll, who propounded the idea that cycles of glacial and interglacial climates are related to changes in Earth's orbit around the Sun; and J. Harlan Bretz, who studied the catastrophic glacial flood that produced the "Channeled Scablands" of Washington state. That glaciers once extended from the North Pole to the Mediterranean was a fact accepted only gradually, and Macdougall examines in detail the clues—rock formations, glacial deposits, fossils and sediment cores—that scientists have used to prove the existence of continental ice sheets, as well as to study them. He closes with a discussion of our current ice age, suggesting that global warming may bring it to a premature end. Some of the science can get a bit technical, but Macdougall's readable style makes it accessible to the interested layperson. Illus. not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

People commonly think the earth's climate is warming, but on a geological time scale, the earth has been cooling for the past 35 million years and is in the midst of a three-million-year ice age--the Pleistocene Ice Age. Earth-sciences professor Macdougall presents the scientific history behind ice ages, emphasizing the roles of four great scientists in the field: Louis Agassiz, James Croll, Milutin Milankovitch, and Harlan Bretz. Each made milestone contributions, and the author interestingly highlights their characters and the resistance to their hypotheses. Their biographies will draw readers into the story of geology's emergence as a science in the nineteenth century. Another hook for readers is the author's discussions of evidence, appearing in landforms and geochemical analysis, which also incorporate the narration of contemporary scientists on the natural history of climate. By grounding general readers in the science of ice ages and by underscoring climate's propensity for abrupt gyrations, Macdougall's account promotes a welcome, reasoning attitude toward ice-age research and its relevance to global warming. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 267 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; New Ed edition (May 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520248244
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520248243
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #830,089 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Very in-depth scientific treatment of subject.
Steve Spangler
It is really amazing how much information can come from such minute bits of evidence.
Dennis Littrell
Understanding Earth climate is an ever changing science.
Jerome C. Boyer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is an absolutely fascinating account of the various ice ages that have periodically taken over the earth. From the ancient "Snowball Earth" (sometimes called "Slushball Earth," 550 to 850 million years ago) in which the entire planet was more or less frozen from pole to pole, to the "Younger Dryas," a cold spell beginning 12,800 years ago and lasting for about 1,200 years, to "Little Ice Age" in Europe (700 to 150 years ago) to the "year without a summer," in 1816, UCSD Professor of Earth Sciences Doug MacDougall chronicles the ebb and flow of glacial advance and retreat in a most interesting and informative manner.

Much of this is a historical account of how scientists discovered the past ice ages through geology and the study of cores taken from the Antarctic, the Arctic, from the sea floor, and from still standing glacial ice packs. MacDougall explains how these cores are read to reveal climate changes in the past based on evidence from isotopes, pollen, and bubbles of trapped atmospheric gases. It is really amazing how much information can come from such minute bits of evidence.

In the early chapters MacDougall recalls the first scientists who became aware of the earth's climate in previous ages--Louis Agassiz, James Croll, Milutin Milankovitch and others. MacDougall recalls their efforts to get their ideas accepted by the geological establishment. It is fascinating to see how gradually it was realized that great rocks had arrived at various places, having been carried there by ancient glaciers. A particularly interesting story is how the Channeled Scablands of the Columbia Plateau in Washington were created when the glacial Lake Missoula sudden broke through the melting ice and drove an immense wall of water clear to the Pacific Ocean.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Ricky Hunter on July 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Frozen Earth by Doug Macdougall is a fascinating book and it makes a great summer read as the heat beat downs and one tries to remember that we are in an ice age, albeit an interglacial period. The history of the discovery is told for all its glory and each chapter highlights a different personality related to the realization that the world has been through, and will continue to go through, a series of ice ages. The science is explained very neatly and the story is driven by the series of discoveries, beginning with Louis Agassiz to the very latest scientific discoveries, including alternate theories. The author also brings the story forward. All in all, a fascinating glimpse into our world, past, present, and future. Ice is a nice thing to think about on a hot summer day and this is just the book to get one truly thinking.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By D.S.Thurlow TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Doug Macdougall's "Frozen Earth" is clear, easy-to-read popular science for those interested in changes in global climate but without the scientific background to understand the often emotionally-charged discussion in the public media.

Macdougall's sub-title. "The Once and Future Story of Ice Ages", emphasizes the longer perspective he takes on how and why climate changes. He begins with the fact that we are likely living in an interglacial period of what has been a series of ice ages recurring at more or less regular intervals of several thousand years.

Macdougall gives his story a human aspect by describing how, over the last 300 years, a succession of scientists struggled to make sense of the physical evidence around them indicating that glaciers had once covered much more area than they do at present. The struggle leads to a still growing understanding of ice ages; the details of the story underline just how complex the workings of Planet Earth really are and how incomplete our understanding of these processes still is.

Macdougall loops back later in the book to relate how the ice ages interacted with human evolution; specifically, how the stress of environmental change forced both adaptation by early humans and selection of those best able to survive the changes. Macdougall's discussion of the "Little Ice Age" during the period 1600-1800 nicely links climate change to a human era we can still relate to.

Macdougall is properly cautious in weaving in the possible effects of mankind on climate change and global warming. The burning of carbon-based fuels clearly has some effect on climate, but Macdougall points out that this is only one of many factors that influence climate.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier on April 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I was sad when I reached the end of this book! I wanted it to be at least twice as long. That's how good it is. The author has the ability to express himself very clearly and concisely but not at all in a boring way. The book covers some history and mini-biographies of key individuals who have given thought to glaciations and ice ages right up to modern methods and current thinking about this subject. There is even a discussion on how ice ages may have influenced human evolution. Written in a style that makes it nearly impossible to put down, this book is a gem that should be read by anyone with even just a passing curiosity about ice ages and glaciations.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By algo41 on May 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"Frozen Earth" is fascinating, but also confusing. Climate is a confusing subject, but I think Macdougall could have done better. There are really two parts to "Frozen Earth": an historical account of the evolution of scientific thought about ice ages, and an attempt to make sense of the explosion of recent findings and theories, and their implications. The history makes for surprisingly good reading, and the few scientists Macdougall dwells on led really interesting lives. Macdougall has a gift for narrative, and for historical context. It is his organizational skills that leave something to be desired. Two examples. It is only in the final chapter, on "Ice Ages and the Future", that Macdougall explains how weathering of rocks has a long term effect on carbon dioxide in the air (recall that the calcium released ends up bound to carbon in the shells of small sea animals). Yet weathering is cited, without explanation, several times earlier as if the implications were obvious and even the account finally given is not as clear as it could be. In that same last chapter, Macdougall reminds the reader, once again, that the "Earth is still in an ice age". Yet in the previous chapter Macdougall says about the "Little Ice Age" of the 14th-19th centuries that the phrase "is a misnomer in technical terms, because it was far from being an ice age". Had Macdougall given a few precise definitions, and been careful how he used the terms subsequently, much confusion would have been avoided. I guess it spoils a good story that the variations in the earth's orbit do not account for ice ages, but SEEM to contribute to the LONGER range cycles in the retreat and advance of glaciers within ice ages. It sure would have been less confusing if Macdougall had more sharply made this point earlier in the book.
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