Glaciologist Lonnie Thompson worries that he may have found clues that show history repeating itself, and if he is right, the result could have important implications to modern society.
Thompson has spent his career trekking to the far corners of the world to find remote ice fields and then bring back cores drilled from their centers. Within those cores are the records of ancient climate from across the globe. From the mountains of data drawn by analyzing countless ice cores, and a meticulous review of sometimes obscure historic records, Thompson and his research team at Ohio State University are convinced that the global climate has changed dramatically. But more importantly, they believe it has happened at least once before, and the results were nearly catastrophic to emerging cultures at the time. He outlined his interpretations and fears today at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
A professor of geological sciences at Ohio State and a researcher with the Byrd Polar Research Center, Thompson points to markers in numerous records suggesting that the climate was altered suddenly some 5,200 years ago with severe impacts. He points to perfectly preserved plants he discovered that recently emerged from the Quelccaya ice cap in the Peruvian Andes as that glacier retreats. This monstrous glacier, some 551 feet (168 meters) deep, has shown an exponentially increasing rate of retreat since his first observations in 1963. The plants were carbon-dated to determine their age and tests indicated they had been buried by the ice for perhaps 5,200 years. That suggests that somehow, the climate had shifted suddenly and severely to capture the plants and preserve them until now.
Lonnie Thompson | EurekAlert!
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