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The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future [Kindle Edition]

Richard B. Alley
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Richard Alley, one of the world's leading climate researchers, tells the fascinating history of global climate changes as revealed by reading the annual rings of ice from cores drilled in Greenland. In the 1990s he and his colleagues made headlines with the discovery that the last ice age came to an abrupt end over a period of only three years. Here Alley offers the first popular account of the wildly fluctuating climate that characterized most of prehistory--long deep freezes alternating briefly with mild conditions--and explains that we humans have experienced an unusually temperate climate. But, he warns, our comfortable environment could come to an end in a matter of years.

The Two-Mile Time Machine begins with the story behind the extensive research in Greenland in the early 1990s, when scientists were beginning to discover ancient ice as an archive of critical information about the climate. Drilling down two miles into the ice, they found atmospheric chemicals and dust that enabled them to construct a record of such phenomena as wind patterns and precipitation over the past 110,000 years. The record suggests that "switches" as well as "dials" control the earth's climate, affecting, for example, hot ocean currents that today enable roses to grow in Europe farther north than polar bears grow in Canada. Throughout most of history, these currents switched on and off repeatedly (due partly to collapsing ice sheets), throwing much of the world from hot to icy and back again in as little as a few years.

Alley explains the discovery process in terms the general reader can understand, while laying out the issues that require further study: What are the mechanisms that turn these dials and flip these switches? Is the earth due for another drastic change, one that will reconfigure coastlines or send certain regions into severe drought? Will global warming combine with natural variations in Earth's orbit to flip the North Atlantic switch again? Predicting the long-term climate is one of the greatest challenges facing scientists in the twenty-first century, and Alley tells us what we need to know in order to understand and perhaps overcome climate changes in the future.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Recent news reports about large holes in the ice and open waters at the Arctic Circle have prompted renewed concerns about the effects of global warming. In measured tones, however, geoscientist Alley reminds us that during the last 100,000 years or so the earth has experienced a wildly varied climate pattern. Using readings of ice cores taken from Greenland, where he participated for several years in the '90s in far-reaching research projects, Alley demonstrates that periods of slow cooling and centuries of cold have been punctuated by periods of sudden warming. In fact, he notes, climatic stability is the exception rather than the rule, and he contends that the unusually warm, stable climate we have experienced for the past 10,000 years is an anomaly. Through his study of the two-mile-long ice cores, Alley reveals a number of elements that contribute to global climatic changes: wind patterns, drifting continents and ocean currents. In lively prose, he illustrates that climate can be stable, but when pushed to changeAby either human or natural forcesAsuch change can occur more dramatically and at a faster rate than our industrial society has ever witnessed. Yet Alley is no alarmist in predicting the ways that human activities will affect climate and climatic changes will affect humans. Although not all scientists will agree with Alley's conclusions, his engaging bookAa brilliant combination of scientific thriller, memoir and environmental scienceAprovides instructive glimpses into our climatic past and global future that will appeal to readers interested in how our environment affects us. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Alley, a participant in five expeditions to Greenland and three to Antarctica, well explains how the ice caps in both places record climate history, how to read those records in cylinders of bored ice, and what they reveal about changes in climate. He waits until the end to discuss the possibility of disaster, which, unfortunately, he thinks is highly likely, perhaps soon. The ice borings disclose a history of sudden changes in a continuity that is predominantly much colder than the period during which humanity has developed. Moreover, change can be triggered by "pushes" as large as continental drift or as seemingly puny as a change in the atmospheric balance of greenhouse gases. The latter can slow or stop the huge oceanic "conveyor belt" that warms the North Atlantic, and then habitable, cultivable lands shrink due to plummeting temperatures and reduced precipitation. Is doom inevitable in our time? Given current knowledge, we can't say. But proceeding as if humanity could affect climate change is only prudent. Wonderfully accessible, information-packed science reading. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 1326 KB
  • Print Length: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; Reprint edition (July 17, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #901,640 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
63 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deep Science, and Truly Pertinent February 21, 2001
I have lived in a good many places in the world, and I think I have never lived in a place where people didn't voice the witticism, "If you don't like the weather here, stick around twenty minutes and it'll change." We are quite used to rapid changes in weather, and all of us seem fascinated by the way one day is different from another, or at the mistakes the weather forecasters make. Only over the past few decades, however, have scientists been able to get a grip on something else fascinating: climate. Ice in Greenland has been piling up year by year for 100,000 years. This ice carries inside it a record of the climate that produced each yearly layer. In _The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future_ (Princeton University Press), Richard B. Alley, who has done research in Greenland and Antarctica, gives us a view of his narrow and deep studies, and tells us why they are important. It is the first book for the layman to show how climate historians are doing their jobs, drilling five inch cores two miles down, and analyzing the ice in many clever ways.
For most of the 100,000 year record, the climate has had wild jumps, centuries of cold followed by abrupt heating. Humans have lived in an anomalous period of stability. There have been climate changes that influenced human life, like the warm spell that lured the Vikings to Greenland and the cold that drove them out, but these represent one degree shifts shown in the recent ice records. Teensy temperature changes have made what we would consider big climate differences, but when it comes to the wild changes, we ain't seen nothing yet.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Covers a lot in a small space January 20, 2003
By Atheen
Although I never completed the degree, I have most of a baccalaureate in geology. Since paleontology and earth history were my main interests, the title Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future by Richard B. Alley naturally caught my eye. The book is an excellent exposition on the recent data collection from ice cores obtained from the more stable portions of the Greenland ice sheet. I had come across this data source before while on a geologic field trip on Santorini helping with research on the volcanic activity that occured there during the Minoan period. It had been information from this source that had helped to date the volcanic event, so I was particularly interested in learning more about how it was obtained and about its reliability.
In part two of the text, the author lucidly describes the rationale behind the selection of ice and of Greenland as an "archival" source. He discusses the methods in and problems of obtaining and preserving the material intact and uncontaminated and the methods of analysis that produced the data. Throughout the following chapters, he lays out for the reader the thinking that went into its interpretation and how this information can be used as a paradigm with which future outcomes of climate change might be predicted. Because Alley, a professor of geoscience at Penn State, took an actual part in all of these proceedings and is an active scientist himself, he is well positioned to give an informative account of the topic. He also has a readable writing style which many such individuals do not.
Although I felt that his attempt to "get down to" the level of his non-technical audience was sometimes a little patronizing, I did think that his explanations of some of the physical systems was very clear.
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Certain Action Must Always Be Based On Uncertain Science February 23, 2002
One of the most critical aspects of science appears on page 174 of The Two-Mile Time Machine by Richard B. Alley:
ALL scientific ideas are subject to revision; we should never be absolutely sure that the truth has been reached. Old ideas should be tested continually, in an effort to tear them down and replace them with better ones. Ideas that survive this constant attack will be especially robust. Experience shows that if we behave as if these surviving ideas are true, we will succeed.... But, on the other hand, the ideas may be true, they may be reasonable approximations of the truth, or we may just be lucky.
In science, no idea, be it speculation, hypothesis, theory, law, model, or FACT, is ever considered to be the final answer. That's the way science works. We ALWAYS act on uncertain answers; we never know if something is the truth with a capital T.
The Two-Mile Time Machine is not only an excellent exposition of the use of ice core [and other] data to figure out the recent and future climate situation on Earth, but it is an excellent exposition of how science in general works. Richard B. Alley, a participating scientist in the GISP2 ice core project in Greenland, has written an easy-to-read, but pull-no-punches book on a complicated scientific topic. The book starts out with the basics of coring, dating, and analyzing ice, and takes the reader through to the political, social, and ethical implications of future climate changes, and concludes with Alley's take on what our responses should be. He always states how much uncertainty is attached to any of the ideas he writes about. If a person of a non-scientific background is going to have a complaint about the book, it will probably be that the book goes into too much detail about the evidence supporting the ideas.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
This is the required book in one of seminars offered by my committee member. Very informative.
Published 3 months ago by ny
5.0 out of 5 stars Very readable and just enough detailed science to keep you ...
Very readable and just enough detailed science to keep you interested.
More importantly, Alley addresses science in this book, and stays away from the politics of Climate... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Walter S Allensworth
5.0 out of 5 stars The real volatility of the climate
This book is another step in our growing realization that the climate is prone to very sudden changes. Read more
Published 17 months ago by WL Hughes-Games
5.0 out of 5 stars Global Climate Change Based on Hard Science
This book takes away all the mumbo jumbo, voodoo "Science" and lays it out, millimeter by millimeter, the last 200,000 years...
Published 19 months ago by Al Andaluz
4.0 out of 5 stars Rating "Two Mile High ..."
An excellent book to explain the problems of assessing past temperatures over very long times - like around 100000 years or so. Read more
Published 23 months ago by walter
5.0 out of 5 stars Burning coal, oil and gas may cause sudden, extreme climate change
It is scientifically established that our burning of fossil fuels and the resultant carbon dioxide emissions will result in global warming, and ultimately may cause dangerous... Read more
Published on March 20, 2013 by Zeeshan Hasan
3.0 out of 5 stars first half, amazing, second half boring
I've used this book in a course on the physics of the Earth and environment that I teach at a major university. Read more
Published on December 1, 2012 by Prof. Steve
4.0 out of 5 stars The Two Mile Time Machine by Richard B. Alley, Review by Roxana Javid
This book is a progress report on abrupt climate change. It tries to answer the following questions: What has been learned from past patterns? Read more
Published on October 14, 2012 by Roxana Javid
4.0 out of 5 stars About half way done...
I'm only about half way done but I am really enjoying the book. It is a very easy read, not very technical at all but still very informing. Read more
Published on August 16, 2012 by Louis Marinelli
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
This book makes climate research clear and exciting. Who would know that ice cores show annual rings like trees? Read more
Published on October 15, 2011 by Amazon Customer
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