Lonnie Thompson and Ellen Mosley-Thompson
2002 Common Wealth Award
Lonnie Thompson and Ellen Mosley-Thompson have spent the past 25 years studying Earth’s climate changes and global warming. The husband-and-wife collaborators are senior scientists with the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University. Thompson has led some 40 international expeditions to collect ice cores from the mountains of Africa, South America and Asia. Mosley-Thompson has led similar field programs to the ice fields of Greenland and Antarctica. To understand Earth’s past and present climate, the Thompsons and their research team decipher the chemical and physical properties preserved in ice cores. With data from the polar ice sheets, Mosley-Thompson has contributed to the global reconstruction of the Little Ice Age (A.D. 1450-1880) and reconstruction of the Earth’s volcanic history. A 1,000-foot-long ice core, drilled on one of Thompson’s expeditions to the Tibetan Plateau, recounts China’s climate history for the past 130,000 years. An ice-core record of this length from the sub-tropics is unprecedented, and new cores from two sites in central and southern Tibet reveal that the past 50 years have been the warmest in the past 10,000 years in this part of the world. Lonnie Thompson believes the hottest part of the globe is crucial to understanding global warming. Using two decades of ice core data and aerial mapping, the Thompsons have documented that the world’s ancient tropical glaciers and ice caps are melting away, most notably during the past half-century. They warn that it may be too late to save the tropical glaciers, and are racing against time, gathering more core samples before Earth’s frozen history is lost forever.