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Review of ‘Thin Ice’ by Mark Bowen

April 22, 2007

A couple months ago, Thermochronic over at Apparent Dip started a list of popular science books and will be reviewing them as he reads/re-reads them (here’s the first).

He asked fellow geobloggers to suggest books for this effort.
I recently finished Thin Ice by Mark Bowen…i’m going to provide a short review here (hopefully not stealing Thermochronic’s thunder!).

The subtitle of this book, Unlocking the secrets of climate in the world’s highest mountains, succinctly sums up what this book is about. Bowen successfully weaves together adventure and science. For any of you out there who have done a lot of field work, you will like it. There are many anecdotes about working and surviving in the field, ranging from humorous to tragic. I tend to like stories about adventurers who are also scientists (rather than people going through hardships just to do it).

Lonnie Thompson, a climate scientist at Ohio State University, and an assortment of others from his research team are the main ‘characters’ in this story. For decades, Lonnie and his team have been drilling and studying cores from high alpine ice sheets, including Peru (Quelccaya), Bolivia (Sajama), Tanzania (Kiliminjaro), and Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (Dunde). An interesting aspect of this story is how in the 1970s and 80s the paleoclimate community more-or-less regarded alpine cores, especially from low latitudes, as useless to climate reconstruction. Everyone believed all the answers were in the big continental ice caps near the poles (Greenland and Antarctica). The results from Thompson’s work showed that these ice caps have records going back maybe not has far as the continental ice sheets but much farther than had been postulated (100,000 years). Furthermore, the climatic fluctuations that are recorded in these lower-latitude archives have important implications for weather patterns that the polar records just cannot address. Bowen also includes great sections on the history of climate and paleoclimate science interspersed with the narrative of the ice coring work of Thompson’s team.

I found this book to be at a great level for a scientist (who’s not a paleoclimate expert) or a layperson who is motivated. That is, you need some background to stay engaged but you don’t need to be an expert in atmospheric dynamics.

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