The White Planet

The White Planet: The Evolution and Future of Our Frozen World

Jean Jouzel
Claude Lorius
Dominique Raynaud
Translated from the French by Teresa Lavender Fagan
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 328
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    The White Planet
    Book Description:

    From the Arctic Ocean and ice sheets of Greenland, to the glaciers of the Andes and Himalayas, to the great frozen desert of Antarctica,The White Planettakes readers on a spellbinding scientific journey through the shrinking world of ice and snow to tell the story of the expeditions and discoveries that have transformed our understanding of global climate. Written by three internationally renowned scientists at the center of many breakthroughs in ice core and climate science, this book provides an unparalleled firsthand account of how the "white planet" affects global climate--and how, in turn, global warming is changing the frozen world.

    Jean Jouzel, Claude Lorius, and Dominique Raynaud chronicle the daunting scientific, technical, and human hurdles that they and other scientists have had to overcome in order to unravel the mysteries of past and present climate change, as revealed by the cryosphere--the dynamic frozen regions of our planet. Scientifically impeccable, up-to-date, and accessible,The White Planetbrings cutting-edge climate research to general readers through a vivid narrative. This is an essential book for anyone who wants to understand the inextricable link between climate and our planet's icy regions.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4469-2
    Subjects: Physics, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. VII-X)
  3. PREFACE (pp. XI-XVI)
  4. Part One The World of Ice:
    • CHAPTER 1 The Ice on Our Planet (pp. 3-17)

      The temperature conditions that govern our planet are such that water can exist in three forms (vapor, liquid, and solid) in proportions that vary in different climate conditions. All of the water on the Earth makes up what is called the hydrosphere. Most water exists in liquid form, 97% of which is in the seas and oceans, which cover 360 million km², or more than 70% of the planet’s surface. Freshwater, a vital resource found in the ground, lakes, rivers, and above all aquifers, represents only a small proportion of the total, a bit more than 0.5%; water vapor in...

    • CHAPTER 2 From Exploration to Scientific Observation (pp. 18-36)

      In the eighteenth century, the way in which an educated man perceived our white planet was quite different from that which has just been presented. Of course, people knew about the existence of mountain glaciers and eternal snows that covered the highest peaks, but no geographer imagined that the amount of snow could fluctuate over time. The Arctic—at least its peripheral regions—was not a completely virgin land since native peoples lived there, but no chronicle mentions anyone reaching the North Pole or traveling across all of Greenland. As for Antarctica, that continent was terra incognita. On January 17,...

    • CHAPTER 3 Ice through the Ages (pp. 37-50)

      Today around 90% of the ice on land is found on the Antarctic continent around the South Pole. The second largest mass is the ice sheet of Greenland, near the North Pole. The rest of the land ice, as we have seen, is spread among the smaller ice caps of the Canadian or Siberian Arctic and in the form of mountain glaciers that remain only in high altitudes in tropical or equatorial regions. The polar regions thus constitute the preferred habitat of the planet’s ice.

      The idea that the situation could have been different in the past and that in...

  5. Part Two Polar Ice:
    • CHAPTER 4 Reconstructing the Climates of the Past (pp. 53-67)

      Human nature, it seems, has caused people to explore the story of our past ever since the dawn of time, whether it has been the history of nations, that of civilizations, or that of our planet and solar system. The history of past climates is no exception. This need of memory has become even more crucial over the last few decades, as an understanding of the climate and its evolution has become of major concern for the near future of our civilization.

      To aid us in this task, we have meteorological measurements, which we’ve had for around a century. More...

    • CHAPTER 5 Glacial Archives (pp. 68-81)

      In this extremely rich context, one might think that the glacial archives from those very distant polar regions are of only marginal, almost anecdotal interest. This isn’t true. Although it is true that reconstructing the temperatures in Greenland or in Antarctica adds only a few more sites, the possibility of looking in detail at the evolution of the climate through the years, and over very long periods, is unequaled. Above all, glacial archives are unique because of their ability to trap the atmosphere of the past and, thanks to their extreme purity, to retain traces of the slightest effect, whether...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Campaigns (pp. 82-109)

      Copenhagen, July 22, 1952. Willi Dansgaard carefully collects the rain produced by a storm occurring over the capital of Denmark. He is interested in the oxygen 18 composition of the successive samples. If it is true, as we learned in school, that the formula for water is written H2O, that which we drink, as we have mentioned, contains different isotopic molecules, H216O, H218O, HDO, and so forth. The different isotopes of water were identified in the period between the two world wars, and the variations in their concentration in a natural environment were quickly proven. But Dansgaard’s study opened the...

    • CHAPTER 7 Vostok: THE CORNUCOPIA (pp. 110-121)

      The termcornucopia, attributed by the journalNatureto the Antarctic Vostok ice core drilling, deserves explanation. In the mid-1980s, our knowledge of the great glacial/interglacial cycles that marked the Quaternary essentially rested on the study of marine sediments. Thanks to them the astronomical theory, which stipulates the existence of a connection between the variations in insolation linked to the slow evolution of the Earth’s orbit and those great climatic cycles, had been very widely accepted. In the wake of the article published inSciencein 1976 by Jim Hays, John Imbrie, and Nick Shackleton, who established the connection, paleoceanographers...


      When, in 1994, the scientific document that would serve as a foundation for the EPICA project was written, the stated primary objective was to drill in a place that would provide ice older than that found at the Vostok site. The choice of a dome was important because, with the same accumulation, the age of the deepest layers of ice would be older there than at a site located on a flowline, as is the case for Vostok. There is greater thinning of the deep layers, and even if the accumulation at the site chosen at Dôme C was 30%...

    • CHAPTER 9 Rapid Climatic Variations (pp. 130-148)

      If we were to rank in importance the climatic phenomena we’ve been discussing, the existence of rapid climatic variations would be at the top of the list. Who hasn’t heard of the halting of the Gulf Stream or, wrongly, of a return to a glacial-like climate that would affect the regions that border the North Atlantic? The media have seized this image and it has even been portrayed in theaters; it is the theme ofThe Day after Tomorrow, a sci-fi thriller from 2005. Let’s be clear: this is science-fiction; the icing over of a large part of the United...

    • CHAPTER 10 The Last 10,000 Years: AN ALMOST STABLE CLIMATE (pp. 149-156)

      The calm after the storm: this is the image we have from the climatic records of polar regions. In Antarctica the contrast between the hills and the valleys that followed each other during the last glacial period, then the deglaciation, and the stability of those same records since the beginning of the Holocene, a bit more than 10,000 years ago, is clear. And above all, there is nothing in common between the highs and the lows, rapid warming and slower cooling, which punctuated the temperature variations in Greenland between 100,000 years ago and the end of the Younger Dryas, 11,500...

  6. Part Three The White Planet Tomorrow
    • CHAPTER 11 The Climate and Greenhouse Gases (pp. 159-172)

      Through the eyes of glaciologists we have led you to the discovery of our white planet, of the world of ice with such variable shapes and with such a rich memory. What will become of this ice on a planet whose climatic history is no longer written by Mother Nature but quite probably is already influenced by the activities of humans and which will probably be even more so in the decades and centuries to come? This question, which bears on the role of human activities in the warming we have been experiencing for a few decades and on the...

    • CHAPTER 12 Have Humans Already Changed the Climate? (pp. 173-200)

      In 1896 Svante Arrhenius brought attention to the fact that humans were in the process of changing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and that as a consequence our planet would warm up by 5°C from that point to the end of the twentieth century, according to his estimates. It was only eighty years later that this risk of warming and its potential consequences were taken seriously. This awareness quickly led to the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988, which in 2007 concluded that our activities are very likely at the origin of...

    • CHAPTER 13 What Will the Climate Be in the Future? (pp. 201-217)

      Attributing climate change to human activity has been the subject of debates ever since the creation of the IPCC. It will take another few years, probably a decade, perhaps more, for this to become an uncontested assertion. Continuing to acquire quality data, better understand the role of aerosols, better identify the natural causes, know more precisely the sensitivity of the climate—in other words its reaction vis-à-vis a modification in the radiative forcing, as well as its natural variability and causes—are the directions in which we must collectively progress. However, there is a near certainty that we must face...

    • CHAPTER 14 A Warming with Multiple Consequences (pp. 218-226)

      It is rather common, sometimes rightfully so, for our community to be criticized for being catastrophists when we broach aspects connected to the consequences of climate change. Alongside our knowledge of the climatic system and its evolution, that of the impacts that a warming would have has progressed greatly in the last twenty years. We now also rely largely on the 2007 IPCC Group II report, which is dedicated to the impacts of climate change and to our adaptation and vulnerability to it.¹ Thanks to that synthesis, we will reveal the world toward which we risk evolving if nothing is...

    • CHAPTER 15 What We Must Do (pp. 227-244)

      We often have the feeling that there is an absence of dialogue, an uncrossable chasm, between the scientific world and that of the political policymakers. In the case of climate warming associated with human activities, the fact that the IPCC, which is responsible for scientific assessments, was founded by two organizations that came out of the United Nations has largely facilitated the dialogue. Four years after the creation of the IPCC, in June 1992 during the first Earth Summit organized in Rio under the aegis of the United Nations, 156 countries adopted the text of the United Nations Framework Convention...

  7. Part Four The Poles and the Planet
    • CHAPTER 16 The Crucial Place of Research (pp. 247-260)

      In this book we have traveled the white planet, the one formed by the ice, which for the most part is found in the polar regions. We have gone deep within the inland ice sheets, in Antarctica and Greenland, to discover the wealth of the glacial archives. The warning sign we have been given cannot leave us indifferent: in this new era, the Anthropocene, humans mark the environment of their planet with their imprint and above all the climate in which they live. Our message aims to help convince citizens and policymakers of the urgency of the measures that must...

    • CHAPTER 17 Humans and the Rise of Pollution (pp. 261-271)

      The degradation of our environment is one of the greatest challenges facing our society. With an increase in population from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 6.6 billion at the beginning of the twenty-first century, with all of its needs and activities, the impact of humans on the planet is now more than worrisome. That impact is manifest both on a local scale, very close to sources such as the great megacities of the industrialized countries, and on a global scale. To increase our awareness of this and to evaluate the state of the health of our environment, we can examine...

  8. CONCLUSION: The Anthropocene Era (pp. 272-276)

    Climate warming has become one of the major challenges that our global society must face. The discoveries made in the ice sheets, notably in Antarctica, have proven this to scientists worldwide. In addition, field data and satellite observations, as well as the viability of the models used for analyzing climate change, have shown us that we cannot ignore this phenomenon. For our part, we have wanted to concentrate on our white planet, whose role in this challenge is crucial since the polar ice is both a unique witness and an essential actor.

    Homo habilis, which appeared 2.5 million years ago,...

  9. NOTES (pp. 277-288)
  10. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 289-290)
  11. INDEX (pp. 291-306)

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