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As they labored, the world awoke to climate change

​See how the careers of Ohio State paleoclimatologists Ellen Mosley-Thompson and Lonnie Thompson have grown in tandem with humans’ understanding of climate change.​

man covered in ice


Lonnie Thompson and Ellen Mosley-Thompson come to Ohio State and work on master’s degrees and PhDs over the next nine years.  


For the first time, ice cores show big climate shifts over the preceding 1,000 years. Droughts hit countries across Africa as well as Ukraine and India.


Scientists begin to realize global warming could be a problem for the planet.

man looking into microscope


Lonnie attempts to drill ice from a tropical glacier for the first time, but fails. He succeeds four years later.

group of men setting up camp on mountain


Ellen embarks on her first expedition and drills ice cores in Antarctica.


Ellen becomes the first woman to lead a remote field expedition in Antarctica.

lonnie thompson holding an ice core


Public awareness of global warming grows with more droughts and record heat. The UN establishes the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to better understand human-induced climate change. Its first report two years later shows Earth’s climate has been and likely will continue warming.

three men sitting at desk of ipcc


Lonnie testifies before a U.S. Senate committee on the effects of climate change, the first time he speaks publicly about what he is seeing at the glaciers.


Lonnie leads a team to Tibet, drilling cores at 23,260 feet, the highest elevation to date.


Michael Mann’s “hockey stick” data show current warming is unprecedented. As the decade closes, Ellen has led seven expeditions to Greenland and Antarctica, and Lonnie has led 19 across the tropics.

man walks in front of glacier


An IPCC report effectively ends debate about climate change among all but a few scientists.


The collapse of Antarctica’s largest ice shelf allowed glacier ice to slide into the ocean faster, contributing to a rise in the sea level.


Lonnie is elected to the National Academy of Sciences; the Kyoto Treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions, signed by major industrial nations but not by the U.S., takes effect. Hurricane Katrina devastates New Orleans.


The Thompsons serve as advisors on “An Inconvenient Truth,” a documentary about climate change by former Vice President Al Gore and filmmaker Davis Guggenheim. The next year, President George W. Bush awards Lonnie the U.S. Medal of Science. 

dome tent with mountain in background
lonnie and president george bush shake hands


Ellen is elected to the National Academy of Sciences and named director of Ohio State’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center.


Lonnie has a heart transplant at Ohio State’s Ross Hospital.


Lonnie leads a team to an ice cap at 21,400 feet in Tibet. He leads several expeditions in the years that follow.


Lonnie leads a team to Huascarán in Peru, collecting ice cores at up to 22,200 feet.


Having warned three years earlier that greenhouse gas emissions must be in sharp decline worldwide by 2030 to avoid disastrous global warming, the IPCC says the global temperature will warm more than 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, causing irreversible harm to most inhabited areas.

two people working on ice core drill
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