While mainstream science has focused on polar ice to find clues about climate change, Lonnie Thompson has been risking his career and life on the highest and most remote ice caps along the equator. In the process he has changed the science of climatology.
The idea guiding Thompson's research is deceptively simple: climate is about energy flow, and because the sun's heat enters the atmosphere at the lower latitudes of the tropics, it follows that the equator's mountain glaciers are the ideal place from which to map the course of climate change. Layers of snow that have been laid down year by year can be read like tree rings, providing detailed information about climate history reaching back 750,000 years. The trick is to come up with a safe and reliable method for retrieving and preserving ice cores while living and working for weeks, sometimes months, in what mountaineers call the "death zone," the environment above eighteen thousand feet. Thompson has done just that, and to gather significant data he has spent more time in the death zone than any man who has ever lived. As explorer and expedition leader, Lonnie Thompson occupies that narrow perch on adventure's summit alongside Ernest Shackleton.
Scientist and expert climber Mark Bowen joined Thompson's crew on several expeditions, including an eye-opening ascent in East Africa that revealed why the snows of Kilimanjaro will be gone in fifteen years. Bowen also includes an account of the dangerous Huascarán ascent where Thompson's discovery of an unknown type of glacial ice revealed how pieces of the global climate puzzle fit together. Bowen also ventures deep inside retreating glaciers from China and the Tibetan Plateau across South America's Andes and to Africa.