Thin Ice

An Eccentric Anomaly: Ed Davies's Blog

Thin Ice: Unlocking the Secrets of Climate in the World's Highest Mountains by Mark Bowen was first published in 2005 and in paperback in 2006. It has three intertwined themes:

Bowen, who has a PhD in physics from MIT, is a mountaineer who was an “embedded” journalist in some of Thompson's expeditions in the Andes and on Kilimanjaro so gives a first-hand account of the field work which livens up what could otherwise be a somewhat dry book.

I first read this when a friend lent a copy to me, about when the paperback version came out. By that time I'd become fairly convinced of the first two of these aspects of global warming:

  1. It's happening.
  2. It's us.
  3. It's a problem.

Even they took me a little while to get to after the matter came to prominent public attention (An Inconvenient Truth, etc). My main concern was simply that it was difficult to tell from the media how well-rooted in past research the ideas were. This is a common problem with media coverage of science which tends to focus on new papers and ideas (which are news) and not on the steady accumulation of understanding and acceptance of ideas which is a lot harder to report so it can be difficult for an outsider to distinguish established fact from passing fad.

Still, the description of global warming in general in this book is very well laid out and did a lot to cement my understanding of the subject. In particular, it helped my appreciate both the historical depth and current breadth of climate-science research.

At the time, though, I didn't really see a relatively small rise in temperature having much effect (and still don't - for example, I don't share some people's concerns that temperature rise alone will make any significant parts of the world uninhabitable). However, what this book did get me to see was that secondary changes in weather patterns could have a devastating effect on societies.

I've been on the lookout for my own copy of the book since. It's only been available second hand but I recently added another of his books (The Telescope in the Ice: Inventing a New Astronomy at the South Pole) to my to-read list and noticed it was back in print, or whatever, so picked up a copy and reread it.

Thoroughly recommended.