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1/14/13

Glaciologist Receives Award from People’s Republic of China

World-renowned Ohio State University glaciologist Lonnie Thompson has been awarded the International Science and Technology Cooperation Award of the People’s Republic of China.

The award recognizes the distinguished university professor of earth sciences as an “influential foreign expert in science and technology” who has made “outstanding contributions to promoting the establishment of strategic partnerships between foreign scientific institutions, universities, enterprises, or international academic organizations with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.”

Lonnie Thompson
Lonnie Thompson

He will travel to Beijing on Jan. 15 with his partner Ellen Mosley-Thompson, distinguished university professor of geography and director of the Byrd Polar Research Center, to receive a medal from the new president of China, Xi Jinping, in ceremonies conducted in the Great Hall of the People.

“The partnership with our Chinese colleagues is just one more reminder that science is an international pursuit and that the problems we face will require cooperation bridging national boundaries,” Thompson said.

Thompson and his team have worked closely with Chinese scientists ever since they took a three-month trip in 1984 to western China, sponsored by a special U.S. National Academy of Sciences program to encourage scientific exchange between the two countries.  The resulting decades-long collaboration has shaped research at Earth’s “Third Pole” region—the highest peaks where most ice and snow persist outside of the poles.

Since 1984, the Ohio State team has conducted major ice core drilling programs on the Dunde ice cap in the Qilian Mountains, the Guliya Ice Cap in the far western Kunlun Mountains, Dasuopu at the top of the Himalayas, Puruogangri Ice Cap in Central Tibet and Naimona’nyi in the far southwest Himalayas.  

All these projects and expeditions were conducted collaboratively with Professor Yao Tandong, whom Thompson met on his first trip to China. Yao was also a visiting scholar at the Byrd Polar Research Center from 1988-89.  

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“The trip to Beijing is, in fact, Thompson’s first international trip since the transplant. More than that, he says, 'It’s my first step to getting back into the mountains!'”


Together, their teams have drilled ice cores containing evidence of Earth’s past climate dating back hundreds of thousands of years. Their work, most recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change last year, has also documented the rapid loss of ice across the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas due to climate change. 

At Yao’s request, Thompson served on the committee that worked with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to form the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, where Yao now serves as director.

In 2009, Thompson was elected Foreign Member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.  In that same year, Yao, Thompson and Volker Mosbrugger of Germany organized the first Third Pole Environment Workshop to bring together organizations studying glaciers, climate change, lakes and rivers, ecosystems and natural dynamics of the Third Pole region.  The fourth of these workshops will be held in India this spring. 

After decades of trekking to the world’s highest peaks to document climate change, Thompson was grounded from travel in 2011 due to congestive heart failure. In 2012, he received a heart transplant at the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State. 

The trip to Beijing is, in fact, Thompson’s first international trip since the transplant.

More than that, he says, “It’s my first step to getting back into the mountains!”

He will use the trip to plan his next drilling project in western Tibet with Professor Yao.

The International Scientific and Technological Cooperation Award of the People's Republic of China was established in 1993 to honor foreign scientists, science and technology engineers and managers, or organizations that have made important contributions to China’s bilateral or multilateral scientific and technological cooperation.

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Contact:  Lonnie Thompson, (614) 292-6652; Thompson.3@osu.edu

Written by Pam Frost Gorder, (614) 292-9475; Gorder.1@osu.edu

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