Finding abrupt change around the world

Confined to the remoteness of Greenland and the special techniques of polar ice analysis, the meaning of the early record of abrupt climate change might never have been widely recognized. For a decade and more after publication of the Dye 3 results, the Greenland researchers' idea of rapid, radical change on timescales that could be measured in decades or even individual years attracted very little interest. Even scientists willing to accept the validity of the data were inclined to a more...

How climate changes faster than the cause

The discovery that climate can change in just a few years can be seen as the culmination of a progressive ratcheting up of the pace of events as succeeding generations of researchers found better methods and tools that offered more accurate visions of the past. Certainly, change that might have been thought in the 1950s to take thousands of years was found in the 1990s to have occurred in a decade or less. But it is not just that things happen more quickly than expected. A climate that is...

Ice

For one team of young U.S. researchers working on the Greenland Ice Sheet Project II, almost all of them new to the science of polar ice drilling, the moment they had been waiting for arrived in the middle of the summer of 1992. After more than five weeks, members of the crew had acclimated themselves to the conditions at Summit and were coordinating their tasks about as well as could be expected of any group at an elevation of 10,400 feet in subzero cold. They were working in a glorified snow...

Penetrating polar ice

The prospect of trekking up to Greenland, drilling into its ice sheet, and extracting a core to bring back and analyze in a freezing laboratory was an idea that, in the pre-World War II United States, attracted no one. Midwesterners know winter cold about as well as anybody, of course, but the country as a whole has no particular cultural affinity for the world of glaciers. European boys like Alfred Wegner may have grown up dreaming of heroic exploits on the polar ice, but the dreams of...

Theories of ice ages past and future

What causes a warm world of flowing water and verdant growth to become a cold world of dry winds raking arid landscape This question has been the object of a long and continuing rumination, of more than a century of field investigation, theorizing, and debate. Along the way, a new history of Earth's climate has been written and a science of paleoclimatology invented. And yet, for all of the new techniques and powers of reasoning at their command, researchers cannot satisfactorily answer the...

Abrupt climate change finds a theorist

The new methods of reconstructing climates past not only have inspired reinterpretations of history but have also cast the future in a new light. They have transformed the study of ancient climates into the study of the very nature of climate the ways it distributes heat and water around the planet and the dimensions and pace of its changes. Nothing stimulated the field of paleoclimatology more than the reports in the early 1980s by Swiss and French physicists and climatologists of their...