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Thin Ice: Unlocking the Secrets of Climate in the World's Highest Mountains (John MacRae Books) Hardcover – October 13, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0805064438 ISBN-10: 0805064435 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Series: John MacRae Books
  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (November 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805064435
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805064438
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,472,834 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Residents of Florida and the Gulf Coast have seen an unusually early hurricane season this year. Thousands of people die every month as drought continues to grip Africa. In August 2003, 15,000 people, mostly senior citizens, died in a French heat wave. Popular-science author Bowen shows readers how these events result from climate disruption caused by global warming. Bowen frames his story with the exploits of Lonnie Thompson, a professor at Ohio State who pioneered the study of glaciers near the equator. Thompson challenged and eventually changed accepted beliefs on how climate change occurs with his revolutionary lightweight-coring techniques that draw ice cores from glaciers in South America, on the China-Tibet border and elsewhere. Bowen explains how carbon dioxide and water vapor interact to regulate our planet's thermostat and argues that scientific evidence conclusively shows that use of fossil fuels has accelerated global warming; in our lifetimes, he predicts, the snows of Kilimanjaro will be no more. This book will appeal to mountaineering and climatology buffs, but should be read by everyone concerned about the future of our planet. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Scientific American

The idea of drilling ice in the tropics as a means of studying changes in climate over thousands of years seems implausible. That work is usually done in polar ice. But Lonnie Thompson, professor of geological sciences at Ohio State University, has taken ice cores from glaciers on many high mountains in the tropics and found that they add fruitfully to the history of climate change. His reasoning was that climate arises from flows of energy from the sun and that most of that energy enters the atmosphere through the tropics. Bowen, a science writer and mountain climber with a doctorate in physics, accompanied Thompson on several expeditions. In a smoothly flowing narrative, he describes drilling ice at high altitudes and explains the science that points to a steady rise in global temperature as a result of human activities. That science prompted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to declare in 2001 that there is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities. A change of nine or ten degrees would almost certainly cause widespread catastrophe, Bowen writes in summarizing the panel's predictions. Available freshwater would plummet, taking crop yields along with it.... Increased flooding would pose a deadly risk to tens of millions of residents of low-lying areas. But, Bowen says, doing anything effective to curb the trend will be difficult: The economic interests who fear any sensible discussion of global warming have succeeded in politicizing this branch of science more perhaps than any other.

Editors of Scientific American

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 15 customer reviews
Thin Ice by Mark Bowen is a great story, well told.
Elizabeth Olson
Every American concerned about the future of this country and the world should read this book and take it to heart because this is happening and it is real.
J. Hughes
This is an important, informative and enjoyable book which deserves to be widely read and discussed.
Michael Levin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Michael Levin on December 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a hard book to categorize because it contains so many valuable treasures. Five major strands are woven together into a highly readable and enjoyable narrative. As a biography, it tells the story of Lonnie Thompson, a contemporary climatologist, his passion for scientific understanding, and his integrity and physical and intellectual courage. Drilling ice cores in Greenland and Antarctica has been a major source of knowledge of the climatic history of our planet, its temperature changes, and the composition of its atmosphere. But Lonnie Thompson realized that ice cores taken from glaciers found on high mountains closer to the equator held valuable secrets of the earth's climatic history not found in polar ice, and that they were essential to our understanding of global climate change both historically, and for modeling and predicting future changes. Furthermore, this valuable historical record is rapidly disappearing. Glaciers, with records of up to 700,000 years, are quickly shrinking. Kilimanjaro's will vanish completely within ten to twenty years. But until recently, there was little understanding, funding, or academic prestige within the scientific establishment for drilling for equatorial ice. Thompson's persistence in obtaining these ice cores, and the contributions they have made to science are the overall theme of the book.

It is to some extent a mountaineering book, but this is a subtheme. Mark Bowen, a scientist, writer and mountaineer, was invited to join Thompson on several high mountain expeditions, and describes these and others as well. Thompson took ice cores from glacial peaks in the Andes of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, from Kilimanjaro, and from the Himalayas, and the mountains north of the Tibetan plateau.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on February 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
For years it's been a given among climatologists that the first and most severe indications of climate change - "global warming" - would be at the Poles. Without intending to, Lonnie Thompson has been slowly but steadily revising that dogma. Real change, he tells us through Mark Bowen's account, is already visible in the retreat of glaciers. The dynamics of high altitude atmospheric processes, particularly in equatorial regions, are shrinking glaciers at an alarming rate. Thompson's investigations demonstrate that our warming world is in serious difficulties. Bowen, who is a physicist and a recreational climber, is able to impart the work of Thompson and his colleagues with enthusiasm. Bowen virtually takes you by the hand to share his experiences in glacial ice extraction and measurement. The analyses erase the last doubt about climate change and our need to reduce our contribution to it.

Although Thompson is the centre of this story, the real pioneer is John Mercer. Described by Bowen as "touched by genius", it was Mercer who effectively initiated investigation of "tropical ice" - when he wasn't jogging naked through city parks. Although the studies were originally intended to map the actions of Ice Age glaciers, investigation became more comprehensive. Now, glacial ice is revealing the pace of change is faster in our era than in the past and accellerating rapidly. The problems resulting from that meltdown are, and will continue to be, severe. Beyond the raising of sea levels from melting ice, changes in the weather are locked into feedback loops that are already having serious impact on human endeavours. Bowen's depiction of Andean societies' reaction to drought and catastrophic rainfall should give any reader pause.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By J. Mann on February 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is travelogue, musings, science, story-telling, and a gentle (non-polemic) argument about a critical present-day issue. The previous reviewers (especially the first two) and Bill McKibben's dust-jacket comment are good guides. Some of the author's descriptions of mountain scenery are quite beautiful. Although I always have been concerned about climate change based on the "precautionary principle" and "responsibility to future generations" ideas, this book helped me put some meat on the thin bones of my understanding. It also reached me at an emotional level, since the reader spends so much time with the scientists and get a close-up view of how they arrive at their understandings.

The book does not simply follow a chronological narrative, but branches off for visits to related topics. I found this style of organization effective and fun. (Like a rafting trip in the Grand Canyon where you frequently stop for a day to explore side canyons.)

There are 24 pages of notes and 21 pages of (about 400-500) references.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Martian Bachelor on August 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the best books I've picked up in years. Mark Bowen has produced a landmark piece of work. It's both extremely informative as well as being very readable.

The story centers on ice cores pulled up over the last 25+ years from the fast-disappearing glaciers on the tops of the world's highest mountains -- a grand adventure in itself -- with the results being put in the context of the current science of the greenhouse effect and global warming, the possible environmental collapse of numerous ancient civilizations (since the ice core records go back many thousands of years), with just enough on the politics of controlling carbon dioxide emissions and the way scientific research is done to keep things interesting and real.

As someone who tries to keep up with scientific developments -- as difficult as that is with the major news media being myopically focused on sensationalism and celebrity (right now it's the JonBenet Ramsey rerun...) -- I felt like I was being caught up on all the many important details and various threads of a story that I already sorta knew the larger outline and implications of.

If I had one complaint it was that the book seemed to need many more graphs than the single one it contains. Some of the subject matter is just technical enough that this would have been much better than the several paragraphs of carefully constructed words needed to convey the same idea. I suppose publishers think that it'll scare off too many customers if they see graphs in a book.

Highly recommended and deserving of much more attention than it's received (based partly on the paltry number of reviews here). Buy a copy for yourself and an additional one to give to a friend or colleague.
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