The Ice Chronicles: The Quest to Understand Global Climate Change / Edition 1

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Almost a decade ago, Paul Andrew Mayewski, an internationally-recognized leader in climate change research, was chosen to lead the National Science Foundation's Greenland Ice Sheet Project Two (GISP2). He and his colleagues put together, literally from scratch, a massive scientific research project involving 25 universities, inventing new techniques for extracting information from the longest ice cores ever from the planet's harshest environments. His book -- equally a scientific explanation of startling new discoveries, an account of how researchers actually work, and a depiction of real life scientific adventure -- arrestingly depicts the contemporary world of climate change research.

The Ice Chronicles tells the story behind GISP2, and its product 100,000 years of climate history. These amazing frozen records document major environmental events such as volcanoes and forest fires. They also reveal the dramatic influence that humans have had on the chemistry of the atmosphere and climate change through major additions of greenhouse gases, acid rain, and stratospheric ozone depletion.

Perhaps the most startling new information gleaned from these records is the knowledge that natural climate is far from stable; quite the opposite -- major, fast changes in climate are found throughout the record. It now appears that Earth's climate changes dramatically every few thousand years, often within the span of a decade. Data gathered through ice core analysis challenge traditional assumptions of how climate operates. Further, the authors show that climate conditions over the past several thousand years, which we take for granted as normal, may in fact be significantly different from that in the previous 100,000 years. New data suggest that relatively balmy conditions allowing the flowering of human civilization since the last Ice Age are not the norm for the last few hundred thousand years. Yet despite the apparent mild state of climate for the last 10,000 years there have still been changes sufficient to contribute substantially to the course of civilization. We live in a changing climate that could under certain circumstances change even more dramatically.

While not a book about policy, the authors find it impossible to ignore the fact that scientific research is, or should be, the underpinning of effective environmental policy. Recognizing that environmental and climate change can no longer be separated from politics and policy, the authors suggest a new approach, drawing upon the insights of ice core research. They present scientifically-grounded principles relevant to policy makers and the public about living with the potentially unstable climatic situation the future will most likely bring.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Without an understanding of how the climate has fluctuated through time, we have no measure with which to compare current fluctuations. In an attempt to remedy this situation, scientists began drilling an ice core on the Greenland Ice Sheet in 1998. This ice core would then be analyzed to establish a long-term record of the climate and the environment. The Ice Chronicles is the history of that project, as told by its director, Mayewski, along with White (The Overview Effect). They explain how evidence of the climate over the last 100,000 years is held in the ice and how scientists have been using the ice core to decipher it. They also cover the political and scientific climate in which the project was developed, the technical difficulties of drilling an ice core in arctic conditions, and how natural and human-accelerated climate change can be distinguished. Mayewski relates his experiences working in the Arctic and Antarctic and makes the ice core understandable for interested readers. Recommended for academic libraries and for public libraries with a sophisticated clientele interested in global warming and climate change. Betty Galbraith, Owen Science & Engineering Lib., Univ. of Washington, Pullman Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781584650621
  • Publisher: University of New Hampshire Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

PAUL A. MAYEWSKI is Co-Director of the Institute for Quaternary and Climate Studies and Professor of Quaternary and Geological Sciences at the University of Maine in Orono and a Fellow of the Explorers Club and the American Geophysical Union. He founded and served as Director of the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. He led the Greenland Ice Sheet Project Two (GISP2), which helped establish our contemporary understanding of climatology. Currently he chairs a fifteen nation effort to explore the last 200 years of climate history over Antarctica and he leads the US field component for this activity, the International Trans Antarctic Scientific Expedition (ITASE). He also leads scientific expeditions to the Himalayas.

FRANK WHITE is author of The Overview Effect and The SETI Factor, and coauthor, with Isaac Asimov, of Think About Space and March of the Millennia.

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Read an Excerpt

Lost! Crawling on my hands and knees through the howling snowstorm, I didn't have time to be scared. But the thought did cross my mind that this might be my last expedition to Antarctica. I couldn't see a thing in the whiteout conditions of the blizzard; all I could do was follow the tracks of the sled and hope that John would realize I had fallen off and come back to look for me . . . He didn't know at first that I hadn't had time to rope back onto the sled because the wind was gusting so hard we couldn't hear one another. After about fifteen minutes, he realized I wasn't on the sled any more, and turned around. John had started following the snowmobile tracks back while I crawled along them toward him, and we literally ran into each other. I got back on the sled and held on! -- Paul Andrew Mayewski on leading the first US expedition to Northern Victoria Land, Antarctica in 1974 - 75
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction 1
1 Setting the State for our Modern Understanding of Climate Change 19
2 The Making of an Ice Core "Time Machine" 38
3 The Discovery of Rapid Climate Change Events (RCCEs) and the Realization that Climate Has Multiple Controls 80
4 Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations 111
5 The Last Thousand Years of Climate Change 126
6 Climate Change: The Real Impact 161
7 Confronting the Choices: Scientists, Politicians, and Public Policy 179
8 Learning to Live in a Changing World 201
Chapter References 215
Bibliography 223
Index 225
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2003

    Cold hard facts about an overheated subject

    If you're interested in global warming and climate change, you're aware of how politicized the area has become, and how much hot air has been spewed by proponents and opponents of the idea that we humans are changing the climate, perhaps to a dangerous degree. In The Ice Chronicles, climatologist and arctic explorer Paul Mayewski and author Frank White bring cooler heads and cold, hard facts to the controversy. The book, first published in the fall of 2002, centers on the findings from the two-mile long ice core that Mayewski's team pulled from the center of the Greenland Ice Cap. This ice core, labeled GISP2, allowed scientists to track a wide range of climate variables in exquisite detail over the past 100,000 years. It produced many important findings that can help clarify the highly politicized climate controversy. The core reveals that Earth's climate is far from steady. Even without any contributions from manmade greenhouse gasses, ozone-depleting chemicals or particulates, regional and global conditions have swung from hot to cold and wet to dry many times, often with dramatic suddenness and great intensity. Mayewski repeatedly makes the point that the idea of a climatologically calm, benign Holocene--the time period during which human civilization appeared and has developed--is a myth. The ten millennia or so since the end of the most recent ice age have been marked by two global climate shifts, the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period, and many less drastic but still potent changes. He also presents intriguing evidence that some of these climatological moodswings contributed to the downfall of several ancient civilizations, including the Mesopotamian Empire around 1200 BC and the Mayan Civilization around 900 AD. While the research findings--presented in great detail--and their implications are fascinating, perhaps the most important contribution the authors make is their perspective. The data Mayewksi himself uncovered show that the climate is a complicated and sensitive system, pushed from state to state by a variety of natural forces. But Mayewski is equally clear that human activities, most notably the marked and well-documented increases in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses during the 20th century, have joined the party and must be considered in order to understand current conditions or predict future climate change. And he is equally clear that unless we take sensible steps to reduce our impacts on the system, we risk not simply global warming and whatever changes that would bring, but increased climactic instability and unpredictability. To the authors' credit, they attempt to bring some calm into the climate debates by propounding ten realistic, commonsense principles. The reflect that, 'No matter what we do, the climate will change.' But they also admonish, 'We should strive more for climate predictability than control,' and 'If we cannot have global control of climate policy, we must at least have global cooperation.' The Ice Chronicles is well worth reading, both for the hard-won scientific facts it presents in considerable detail and explains well, and for the constructive, down-to-earth perspective it provides. Robert Adler, author of Science Firsts: From the Creation of Science to the Science of Creation. (John Wiley & Sons, September 2002).

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