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Lonnie Thompson

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Lonnie Thompson
Portrait of Thompson, 2015
Thompson in 2015
Born (1948-07-01) July 1, 1948 (age 75)
Alma mater
Scientific career
ThesisMicroparticles, ice sheets and climate (1976)

Lonnie Thompson (born July 1, 1948), is an American paleoclimatologist and university professor in the School of Earth Sciences at Ohio State University. He has achieved global recognition for his drilling and analysis of ice cores from ice caps and mountain glaciers in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. He and his wife, Ellen Mosley-Thompson, run the ice core paleoclimatology research group at the Byrd Polar Research Center.[1][2]

Early life and education[edit]

Thompson was born July 1, 1948, in Gassaway, West Virginia, and was raised there on a farm.[3] He obtained an undergraduate degree from Marshall University, majoring in geology. He subsequently attended Ohio State University where he received M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in geology.

Career and impact[edit]

Thompson is one of the world’s foremost authorities on paleoclimatology and glaciology. For over 40 years, he has led 60 expeditions where they conduct ice-core drilling programs in the Polar Regions as well as on tropical and subtropical ice fields in 16 countries including China, Peru, Russia, Tanzania and Papua, Indonesia (New Guinea).[4] He and his team from the Ohio State University have developed light-weight solar-powered drilling equipment for acquisition of histories from ice fields in the tropical South American Andes, the Himalayas, and on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.[5][4] The results from these paleoclimate histories were published in more than 230 articles and have contributed toward improved understanding of Earth’s climate system, both past and present.[4]

In the 1970s, he was the first scientist "to retrieve ice samples from a remote tropical ice cap, such as the Quelccaya Ice Cap in the Andes of Peru,[3] and analyze them for ancient climate signals."[6] He created the ice core research program at Ohio State while still a graduate student there. In regards to the dedication required to attain this ice, one author writes:[7]

In his efforts to obtain ice cores, Thompson has spent an enormous amount of time at elevations above 5,500 meters. High-altitude climbers typically tackle a peak by spending time in a series of camps at lower elevations to acclimatize and then making a final rushed push for the summit. But Thompson and his loyal band of colleagues, students and mountain guides spend literally months at a time working at altitude... Thompson and his colleagues have managed to drill into tropical glaciers with nothing more to rely on than a combination of modest funding, low-tech equipment, ingenuity and sheer muscle power. Because the thin air at high altitudes precludes the use of helicopters, all of the drilling equipment and supplies must be carried up and down the slopes by yaks, mules, horses or humans...

— Mark Bowen, Thin Ice

For comparison, the Everest lower base camp is at 5,380 m (17,700 ft) and the upper base camp is at 6,500 m (21,300 ft). (The mountain itself is 8,848 m (29,029 ft).) Rolling Stone magazine says that there is no person in the world who has spent more time above 18,000 feet than Lonnie Thompson.[8]

His observations of glacier retreat (1970s–2000s) "confirm that glaciers around the world are melting and provide clear evidence that the warming of the last 50 years is now outside the range of climate variability for several millennia, if not longer."[9] In 2001, he incorrectly predicted that the famed snows of Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro would melt within the next 20 years, a victim of climate change across the tropics. Return expeditions to the mountain have shown that changes in the mountain's ice fields may signal an even quicker melting of its snow fields, which Thompson documented had existed for thousands of years. Thompson and his wife both served as advisers for the Academy Award-winning 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, by Al Gore, Jr., and some of their work was referenced in the movie.

Personal life[edit]

Lonnie Thompson has been married to Ellen Mosley-Thompson for more than 40 years. They met in the 1970s in the Marshall University while he was studying geology and she was pursuing a degree in physics. After their graduation, they both pursued graduate degrees in geology at the Ohio State University. They are now research partners who are both interested in examining the effects of climate change on the world's glacial regions and in developing the technology to drill deep in the ice.[10]

On May 1, 2012, he underwent a successful heart transplant.[3]

Honors and awards[edit]


Lonnie Thompson has been awarded 53 research grants from the NSF, NASA, NOAA and NGS and has published 165 papers. An abbreviated list of expeditions, grants, and publications can be found in his Ohio State curriculum vitae (PDF).

Some notable publications include:

  • Thompson, L. G.; Mosley-Thompson, E.; Brecher, H.; Davis, M.; León, B.; Les, D.; Lin, P. -N.; Mashiotta, T.; Mountain, K. (2006). "Inaugural Article: Abrupt tropical climate change: Past and present". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 103 (28): 10536–43. Bibcode:2006PNAS..10310536T. doi:10.1073/pnas.0603900103. PMC 1484420. PMID 16815970.
  • Thompson, L.G.; Mosley-Thompson, E.; Davis, M.E.; Lin, P.-N.; Henderson, K.; Mashiotta, T.A. (2003). "Tropical glacier and ice core evidence of climate change on annual to millennial time scales" (PDF). Climatic Change. 59: 137–155. doi:10.1023/A:1024472313775. S2CID 18990647. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-04.
  • Thompson, L. G.; Mosley-Thompson, E.; Davis, M. E.; Henderson, K. A.; Brecher, H. H.; Zagorodnov, V. S.; Mashiotta, T. A.; Lin, P. N.; Mikhalenko, V. N.; Hardy, D. R.; Beer, J. (2002). "Kilimanjaro Ice Core Records: Evidence of Holocene Climate Change in Tropical Africa" (PDF). Science. 298 (5593): 589–593. Bibcode:2002Sci...298..589T. doi:10.1126/science.1073198. PMID 12386332. S2CID 32880316. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-12-17.
  • Thompson, L. G. (2000). "Ice core evidence for climate change in the Tropics: Implications for our future". Quaternary Science Reviews. 19 (1–5): 19–35. Bibcode:2000QSRv...19...19T. doi:10.1016/S0277-3791(99)00052-9.
  • Thompson, L. G.; Yao, T.; Davis, M. E.; Henderson, K. A.; Mosley-Thompson, E.; Lin, P. N.; Beer, J.; Synal, H. A.; Cole-Dai, J. (1997). "Tropical Climate Instability: The Last Glacial Cycle from a Qinghai-Tibetan Ice Core". Science. 276 (5320): 1821. doi:10.1126/science.276.5320.1821.


  1. ^ "Byrd Polar Research Center Directory". 29 September 2009. Retrieved 19 June 2010.
  2. ^ Zagorski, N. (2006). "Profile of Lonnie G. Thompson". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 103 (31): 11437–11439. Bibcode:2006PNAS..10311437Z. doi:10.1073/pnas.0605347103. PMC 1544187. PMID 16868075.
  3. ^ a b c Gillis, Justin (July 3, 2012). "A Climate Scientist Battles Time and Mortality". The New York Times. Retrieved July 3, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d "Lonnie Thompson | Council for the Advancement of Science Writing". casw.org. Retrieved 2020-03-13.
  5. ^ "Lonnie Thompson". earthsciences.osu.edu. Retrieved 2020-03-13.
  6. ^ "Lonnie Thompson to Receive National Medal of Science". Ohio State University, Research News. 2007. Archived from the original on 10 June 2010. Retrieved 19 June 2010.
  7. ^ Mark Bowen (2005). Thin Ice. Henry Holt and Co. pp. 320. ISBN 0-8050-6443-5.
  8. ^ "The Ice Hunter". Rolling Stone. 3 November 2005. Archived from the original on 30 April 2008. Retrieved 19 June 2010.
  9. ^ "Lonnie Thompson CV (short)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 October 2008. Retrieved 19 June 2010.
  10. ^ "Couple has spent decades exploring glaciers, which reveal climate history". The Washington Post.
  11. ^ "Medals | SSAG | Svenska Sällskapet för Antropologi och Geografi". ssag.se. Retrieved 2021-08-27.
  12. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 2021-08-27.
  13. ^ "The Seligman Crystal". International Glaciological Society (IGS). Retrieved 2021-08-27.
  14. ^ "Heroes of the Environment". TIME. 24 September 2008. Archived from the original on September 30, 2008. Retrieved 19 June 2010.
  15. ^ "Benjamin Franklin Medal in Earth and Environmental Science". Franklin Institute. 2012. Archived from the original on 2013-06-26. Retrieved April 6, 2013.
  16. ^ BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards 2021

External links[edit]