Ellen Mosley Thompson and Lonnie Thompson were awarded the Frontiers of Knowledge award for the Climate Change category. This was on the same day the Basque Country was suffering from the first heat wave of 2022. They are married and have a very friendly relationship. Both are paleoclimatologists who have dedicated their lives investigating glaciers. He was nicknamed "the iceman" by Science magazine in 2002. She is the mountain men. He is the one who gave his name to the Antarctic valley and the polar ones. They studied the behavior, rhythms and evolution of these ice masses in the 1970s. He wasn't there, but they were looking for him. They have since confirmed the effects of global warming on the melting snowfields.
- For half a century, they have been collecting samples (ice cores) from all over the globe. What can they read?
Ellen Mosley-Thompson - Everything in the atmosphere is deposited into the snow that falls to ground, creating layers that have different physical and chemical properties.
Lonnie Thompson: The air bubbles trapped in the ice record temperature changes, the gases released from volcanic eruptions and methane are all captured in the ice. These records are an amazing archive of the past of the planet.
- What year did they go back?
L. T.: There are records that date back 800,000. These records provide a detailed history of climate cycles, ice ages and warm periods as well as a baseline of natural variability that can be used to compare the current 21st-century situation.
- Has the planet experienced other climatic changes already?
- L.T. Now, everything is different. We have never had more than 7,500,000,000 people on Earth.
- The problem is in the human being and his actions.
E. M. T.: Human activity is increasing carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. Although there is a natural pattern which has historically caused climatic changes in the past, emissions have now reached a very high level and have impacted natural cycles. This has led to more extreme weather, which, according climate models, will increase with more flooding and droughts. frequent.
- Directly affecting the glaciers
- L.T. : Our goal was to learn about how they behave all around the globe when we started to study them. We were reconstructing natural climate variability. At the time, climate change wasn't a factor. We confirmed that there had been a retraction and a thaw. Many of the ones that we had drilled in the beginning of our careers are now gone.
- L. T.: Yes. We have been able to study the Greenland trophic layer of ice, which is the most important on the planet. Every two or three years, we return to observe its evolution. It is actually shrinking. It is almost like visiting a patient with cancer in a hospital. It is something you observe, document, but it is not possible to stop the disease.
- Do we face something fatal?
- L.T. : Yes. It is too late for most high-mountain glaciers to be saved. We won't be able to see the effects of what we are doing for 30 more years. Then we will have even more.
- Does there not seem to be any political will?
E. M. T.: It all depends on where you live and what your ideology is. Conservatives are reluctant to discuss it as it will force them to take action.
L.T.: This was my first testimony before the US Senate on climate change in 1992. There have been many discussions and many reports since then, but the sad truth is that more emissions are occurring, which means that temperatures rise faster, and glaciers shrinking faster. There is much talk and debate, but very little has been done.
A life on Ice. Are they in dangerous situations?
E. M. T.: The plane that picked us up in 1986 after 21 days on the Arctic Plate could not see us from above because there was no way to distinguish on such a flat, white surface. We were worried that he was running low on fuel and food after several passes. They found us the next day, which was a good thing.
- What do you have to say Lonnie? Do you have any stories about mountain glaciers?
- The indigenous people attacked us while we were drilling in Indonesia. Around 150 people tried to reach us to stop us but they couldn't because they didn't have crampons. They decided to remove the ice "cores" that we had taken and stored away from the frozen area. They failed to make it, so I tried to speak to them.
- It turns out, that in their religion, the mountains and valleys are the arms and legs and the heads of their god, and the glaciers the head. So drilling it was stealing their memory. After explaining to them, they agreed to let us go because they understood the importance and value of our work.
- More intelligent than Westerners
Lonnie smiles regretfully before answering: Without any doubt.