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The Ice Age: A Very Short Introduction
on 6 March 2014
The Ice Age delves back to the onset of Ice Age research – to the discovery of the Adams mammoth in 1799 and a landmark letter from Charles Darwin in 1873. It tells the entertaining story of climate change research from these early discoveries through to the present day, to incorporate the latest revolutions in Ice Age research.
The story demonstrates how key scientists, from across the natural sciences, have contributed to our knowledge of climate change. It has taken several centuries of dedicated research to arrive at our current understanding of the Earth system, and the book highlights what an important, interdisciplinary journey this has been. Pioneering figures such as Charles Lyell, Louis Agassiz, and William Buckland took centre stage in the great Ice Age debate as the glacial theory was devised and deliberated in the glaciated valleys of Britain and the European Alps during the 18th and 19th Centuries. During World War One, Milutin Milankovitch completed the painstaking task of calculating (using only pen and paper!) how the orbital relationships between the Earth and the Sun influence the amount of solar energy our planet receives. When he published his findings in 1941, the true gravitas of his work was not fully recognised. We had to wait several decades until the Milankovitch theory was fully credited…
We follow the Ice Age research story to the pioneering work of Nick Shackleton and colleagues on the deep ocean sediment record during the 1970s, and that of Hans Oeschger and Willi Dansgaard and their teams on the ice core record in the 1980s. It is these incredible archives that have allowed us to produce detailed insights into long-term climate change at a resolution and timescale that was not previously possible. Importantly, these findings provided the thread that could finally tie together the early work of the 18th Century scientists, with the orbital insights of Milankovitch, and with our most recent hi-tech research.
The author dedicates time to all heroes of our research field, both sung and unsung, and brings them to life as we learn some important anecdotes from their own scientific journeys. Who knew that a little-known cotton miller from Lancashire was the first to propose that floating ice may be able to transport sediments? Or that the papers containing Milankovitch’s orbital theory were almost destroyed by fire during World War Two? Or that Nick Shackleton decorated his lounge with computer printouts of the oxygen isotope curve for a celebratory party?
Alongside the narrative of these fascinating characters, the methods used by scientists through the ages are detailed with equal clarity. Jamie Woodward guides us through the entire Earth Science toolkit, from glacial geomorphology through to radiocarbon dating and oxygen isotope analysis. Information boxes also provide helpful information such as: ‘Quaternary dating methods’ and ‘What is an erratic boulder?’.
This is a truly comprehensive, highly accessible, and entertaining biography of Ice Age research: where we have come from and where we are going. It serves both as an excellent introduction for those not yet familiar with Ice Age research and as a valuable reference point for all natural scientists. It is a must-read for anyone intrigued by the excitement of scientific discovery!