New Albany News

Oct. 7

OSU paleoclimatologist to speak at McCoy center

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Ohio State University professor Lonnie Thompson, a paleoclimatologist, had no idea growing up in Gassaway, W. Va., that he would become a scientist and a leader in ice-core research.

He said he liked science but his parents only had eighth-grade educations. His father died of a heart attack when Thompson was in his senior year in high school, leaving three children and a wife with no work experience behind.

"My mom had never worked before and, at that time, the idea of women working was not haled by a large part of society," Thompson said.

The family made it through by pulling together.

Thompson said he worked four jobs while he was in high school to help support his family. Eventually, he and his two siblings made it into college.

"Those events early in life can either strengthen you or weaken you," he said. "It's not the events that really change your life. It's how you respond to those events."

That's just one of the messages Thompson said he hopes to impress upon eighth-graders at New Albany Middle School and students in some New Albany High School science classes when he speaks to them Oct. 7.

Thompson then will speak to the community at 7 p.m. at the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts, 100 E. Dublin-Granville Road in New Albany.

Admission is free, according to New Albany Middle School teacher Claire Monk.

Thompson works at the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State.

Monk said she interned at the research center while in college at Miami University and went back last summer for a workshop on watersheds and wetlands.

"This is a rare opportunity, I think, to have a climate expert who is well renowned come to our district to speak to our kids and our community," she said.

Thompson said he hopes to inspire the students with his story of leaving Marshall University with geology and English degrees to attend Ohio State, where he was offered a research position to study ice cores.

"I thought, glaciers only cover 10 percent of planet and they're not where people live," he said.

It only took a year and a half for him to find potential in the work, realizing that as ice melts, it ends up in the oceans and affects the land oceans touch.

"At the time, there was no way I would have thought that at my age, I'd still be working on ice," he joked.

Monk said she simulated ice cores in her class this year, explaining how scientists learn about environmental conditions in the past from piecing through ice cores.

Scientists learn how much snow fell each year and find "materials such as trapped gases, debris from forest fires and volcanoes, dust picked up by winds and living materials such as pollen and insects, which can be studied to evaluate environmental conditions at the time the layer was deposited," she wrote in a letter sent home to parents explaining Thompson's visit.

It's a strange life, Thompson said, that he prepared for back in West Virginia as a Boy Scout.

"The Boy Scouts (of America) had advantages," he said. "We had good leaders who took us camping in the mountains, teaching us hiking and survival things that have served me well in the 60 expeditions I've conducted around the world."

Monk said Thompson's work at high altitudes might also have saved him when he had congenital heart failure two years ago.

"Two years ago, I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and I didn't want to believe that," Thompson said. "I thought if it were true, I would not be able to go to mountaintops. I was 53 years old when I was told."

Thompson said doctors finally convinced him that his heart would give out, so he got on a transplant list and had a heart transplant in May 2012.

He went on an expedition in west central Tibet at 20,500 feet above sea level in May 2013.

"Again, it's not the event that determines who you are," Thompson said. "It's how you deal with the event. That's an important lesson for all of us."

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