top of page

Book Review:
Ice cores reveal temperature shifts

The Ice at the End of the World

Jon Gertner, 2019

I recently finished reading The Ice At The End Of The World (2019) by Jon Gertner. This book is a well written and interesting account of the exploration of Greenland by European explorers (first half), and discoveries from ice cores regarding changing temperatures in Greenland during the past several thousand years and during the recent period of global warming. There is some eye opening information in this book: 


Analysis of ice cores from 11,700 years ago show changes of 18 degrees Fahrenheit (warmer) within a few years.  Joan Fitzpatrick, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist, said to Gertner, So that's it.. Ice age here, Not ice age there. We think this was in the space of a few years. And the whole point is, we all once thought that would take thousands of years. Two climate scientists, James White and Richard Alley, urged the scientific establishment to absorb the idea that such changes could happen again, and that "the paleo record" .. showed that earth's climate system had a tendency to switch drastically from one mode to another. Even without settled explanations for the change, there was now strong evidence: Earth's climate had no problem changing quickly and furiously, regardless of human expectations.  (p.230-231)


... according to GRACE readings between 2002 and 2009, "the mass loss of the ice sheets (was) not a constant but was accelerating with time. Greenland had gone from losing about 137 billion tons of ice per year to losing about 286 billion tons a year." (p.248) 


By 2010, The average summer temperatures in Greenland were now sometimes between 7 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal. (p.250)  

But in Greenland, the rise in temperatures was even more acute than rising global temperatures implied. Much as climate models had predicted, the Arctic regions appeared to be warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. (p. 272) In February 2018, at Cape Morris Jessup, a weather station at the northern tip of Greenland, instruments registered daily temperatures 45 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. (p.273)


To experts on the region, the "new normal" had the air of an encroaching emergency. The loss in Arctic sea ice and jumps in Arctic temperatures were so drastic that it seemed reasonable to begin asking whether abrupt climate changes, observed in ice cores ... were showing up again today. According to Paul Mayewski, who was in charge of the GISP-2  drilling project, "If you look at the modern warming the Arctic, in a five year period from 2007-2012, we see a doubling of the length of the summer in the eastern Arctic, and that is the equivalent to a 5 degree centigrade rise in temperature in less than five years ..."    (p.273)


Konrad Steffen, a Swiss scientist, "calculated that between 1990 and 2018 average temperatures on the ice sheet had increased by  2.8 degrees Celsius, or 5 degrees Fahrenheit." (p.277)


 According to Kevin Anderson, a climate scientist at the University of Manchester, "To meet the Paris agreement goals, which attempt to limit average global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, "the wealthier parts of the world would need to be zero carbon energy by about 2035 .. And the poorer parts, including China, would have to deliver zero carbon energy by 2050. And by that I mean everything- cars, planes, ships, industry, all of the energy would be zero carbon by 2050 ..."  (p. 286)


The first half of Gertner's book is a series of adventure stories about death defying treks across Greenland by explorers whose courage, endurance and stoicism was beyond belief, while their motivations seem hard to completely fathom, at least by me.   The last part about climate change is a stark warning based on the drilling of ice cores to a depth of a few thousand feet.   

-- Dee Wilson

bottom of page