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Thompson is one of eight researchers who will receive the award later this summer during a formal ceremony at the White House.
Thompson, a distinguished university professor of earth sciences at Ohio State, has led more than 50 expeditions to ice caps and glaciers on five continents, retrieving ice cores that contain a diary of past climate conditions around the globe, some dating back farther than 750,000 years.
From the ice, Thompson and his colleagues can distinguish between ancient drought and monsoon conditions by measuring the dust content and the concentration of chloride.
The concentration of sulfate along the cores offers a record of volcanic eruptions worldwide, and a comparison of two isotopes of oxygen yield a surrogate for past temperature records, some so distinct as to show changes month to month.
The White House release said "the National Medal of Science honors individuals for pioneering scientific research in a range of fields, including physical, biological, mathematical, social, behavioral, and engineering sciences, that enhances our understanding of the world and leads to innovations and technologies that give the United States its global economic edge." Ohio State President Karen Holbrook said that this national award is a fitting culmination of the triumphs of great science, and that Thompson and his team are exceptional examples of such work.
"Among the many honors bestowed on Lonnie, this award is both extraordinary and well-deserved.
Lonnie and Ellen both served as advisers to former Vice President Al Gore in the production of his 2006 documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth." Gore said, "Lonnie Thompson's research has yielded some of clearest, most definitive evidence of the dangerous state of global climate change that we're all facing."In many ways, teaching these future scientists is just as important as the discoveries we have made," explains Ellen."They will be the ones to carry this work forward in the decades to come." Massive refrigerated storage rooms at Ohio State currently store more than four miles of the four-inch-diameter cores for future analysis.But while those alpinists sprint to the summit and return to the mountains' bases, Thompson's teams will remain for weeks on end, drilling hundreds of meters through the ice fields to retrieve the climate records they hold hidden.Thompson shocked the scientific community in 2001 when he predicted that the famed snows of Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania would melt within the next 20 years, a victim of climate change across the tropics.
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The year before, he was named one of "America's Best Scientists" by Time magazine and the Cable News Network.