The Ohio State University Alumni Association

Hero image

Lives in science and service

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

1971

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

1972

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.

1977

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

1979

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

1982

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

1986

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

1988

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.

1992

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.

1996

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

1999

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.

Lonnie Thompson with ice frozen on facial hair

Lonnie Thompson looking into a microscope

Lonnie and his team at the Quelccaya ice cap

Mosley-Thompson processes ice cores

2000

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

2003

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.

2005

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.

2006

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. 

2009

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

2012

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

2013

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

2019

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

2021

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.

Lonnie Thompson walking in front of a glacier

Satellite image of ice melting

Lonnie Thompson shakes hands with George W. Bush

Thompsons with an ice drill

Ice sages

The research and teaching of Lonnie Thompson and Ellen Mosley-Thompson have one purposehelping future generations beat climate change. See their impact.

Pioneers of paleoclimatology

Learn from the experiences of Ellen Mosley-Thompson and Lonnie Thompson as they reflect on the value of personal identity, facing your fears and forging paths for others. Read more.

How do you collect an ice core?

Gathering ice from the world’s most remote places takes a team and equipment specially prepared for extreme temperatures and terrain. Follow along on one trip to Peru. See the steps.

A frozen history of Earth’s climate

Similar to rings in a tree trunk, layers of glaciers show what Earth’s climate was like as the ice formed. Find out what the Thompsons’ ice cores can reveal. See an ice core.


About the author

Portrait of author

Laura Arenschield

Laura Arenschield is a science writer with Ohio State. She has covered the Thompsons’ work for more than a decade.