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64 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rich Tapestry of Science and Biography, December 15, 2005
This review is from: Thin Ice: Unlocking the Secrets of Climate in the World's Highest Mountains (John MacRae Books) (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. The hardships and danger of high altitude mountaineering, and the logistic difficulties of transporting equipment, and bringing back ice samples are vividly detailed. However, Thompson, and the international team of scientists who worked with him over many years never climbed a mountain for the sport of it, but were always motivated by their passion for science.

Third, this is the story of the science of climatic change, and the gradual unfolding of our understanding of it over the past 150 years. The details revealed themselves slowly as more data was obtained from many places in the world, and from many sources, not just ice cores, but sea bed drilling, biological sampling, and others. And as the data emerged, the sophistication of mathematical correlating and modeling also matured. The clarity and detail of our understanding of both the past, and possible future scenarios continues to mature, but scientific consensus at the present leave little room to doubt that global temperature will rise as atmospheric carbon dioxide caused by burning fossil fuels increases, that polar ice will continue to melt, that the ocean level will rise significantly, that extreme weather will increase, and that global patterns of wet and dry regions will shift, although it is not possible to say how they will shift. The explanatory sections of the book are not only clear and easy to follow but reliable because Mark Bowen is both a writer and a trained scientist able to offer a path of clarity and balanced judgement through confusing arguments and claims.

Fourth is the anthropological story of the rise and decline of civilizations in the Andes, in North Africa, in Mesopotamia, and elsewhere. Within the last three decades, as climatologists have published increasingly detailed historical temperature and rainfall data, it has become possible to correlate these with archeological discoveries and cross check the dates. Time after time the story shows the emergence of a city-state which grows in size and prosperity until it hits the limits of sustainable agriculture. Then the climate changes, people starve or migrate, and the nexus of civilization moves elsewhere.

Finally, there is the story of the interaction of science and politics, and what happens when the findings of science conflict with what is convenient for political or industrial leaders to have us believe. This theme is presented in a factual rather than polemic or accusatory style. But the ability of the oil industry to create controversy where there should be none by hiring their own "research" and creating confusion by focusing on minor disagreements and ignoring overall consensus is unsettling.

This is an important, informative and enjoyable book which deserves to be widely read and discussed.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 6, 2009 2:45:02 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 6, 2009 2:46:29 PM PST
D. Scott says:
Your review of "Thin Ice" is spot on. But, alas, the main title of the book is shared with a basketful of other volumes also titled "Thin Ice" and variations thereof, and so got lost among them. I searched amazon for "global warming" and "climate change" and was turned off by the hysteria denoted by many titles, mostly under the "climate change" category. This calm, reasoned, largely apolitical, and scientifically rigorous book was not found. I found my copy in a second hand bookstore in the "adventure" section. This is really a shame, because the book convinced me of the validity of global warming and could have done the same for the majority of readers MADE AWARE OF IT.
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