Alley, Richard B.

views updated

Alley, Richard B.

PERSONAL: Education: Ohio State University, B.Sc. (summa cum laude), 1980, M.Sc., 1983; University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ph.D., 1987.

ADDRESSES: Office— Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, 503 Deike Bldg., University Park, PA 16802; fax: 814-863-7823. E-mail— [email protected]

CAREER: Writer and educator. Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, assistant professor, 1988-92, associate professor, 1992-96, professor, 1996—, Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences, 2000—. Guest on television and radio programs, including Nova and Earth and Sky.

AWARDS, HONORS: Seligman Crystal, International Glaciological Society; Louis Agassiz Medal, European Geosciences Union Cryospheric Section; fellowship, American Geophysical Union; Horton Award, American Geophysical Union Hydrology Section; Don J. Easterbrook Award, Geological Society of America Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology Division; David and Lucile Packard Foundation Fellowship for Science and Engineering; Gary C. Comer Abrupt Climate Change Mentorship; Presidential Young Investigator Award; Wilson Teaching Award, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Pennsylvania State University; Mitchell Innovative Teaching Award, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Pennsylvania State University; Faculty Scholar Medal in Science, Pennsylvania State University.


The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2000.

(With Robert A. Bindschadler) The West Antarctic Ice Sheet: Behavior and Environment, American Geophysical Union (Washington, DC), 2001.

Contributor to journals, including Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Quaternary Science Reviews, Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Paleoceanography, Journal of Glaciology, Geology, Science, and Nature.

SIDELIGHTS: Richard B. Alley is a professor of geo-sciences at Pennsylvania State University, where he specializes in glaciology, the study of ice sheet stability, and the investigation of ancient climatology as represented in ice cores. Alley is a scientist whose “contributions to the ice core, sea-level, and climate communities have been exceptional,” stated Samuel C. Colbeck of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute in the citation for Alley’s 1996 Horton Award.

In The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future, Alley presents detailed research findings derived from the study of two-mile-long ice cores drilled and extracted from the ice covering Greenland. These cylindrical cores offered Alley and other scientists access to more than 110, 000 years of uninterrupted climatic information, sealed within the ice. Alley also describes the Greenland expeditions themselves, offers a primer on the use of ice cores to examine climate history, and details the methodologies used to collect and analyze the ice cores.

Some of Alley’s findings were unexpected, even alarming, especially in terms of current controversies surrounding global warming and abrupt climate change. He discovered, for example, that the last ice age ended not in a gradual decline over decades or centuries, but sharply and quickly within a three-year period. He notes that throughout the history represented in the ice cores, global climate has been much colder than the relatively mild temperatures experienced during the time period during which modern humans developed. The relatively warm and stable climate of the last 10, 000 years, Alley contends, is not the norm. He identifies factors that contribute to climate change, including continental drift, wind patterns, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and changes in warmth and patterns of the ocean currents. Alley concludes that global climate has, does, and likely will again change abruptly and with little warning. Though not alarmist in his predictions, Alley suggests that climatic disaster is inevitable, whether precipitated by man-made influences or by natural factors that have been in play for millennia. Ultimately, he concludes that “proceeding as if humanity could affect climate change is only prudent,” noted Ray Olson in Booklist.A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Alley’s book a “brilliant combination of scientific thriller, memoir and environmental science” that “provides instructive glimpses into our climatic past and global future.” Olson concluded by calling the study “wonderfully accessible, information-packed science reading.”



Booklist, October 15, 2000, Ray Olson, review of The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future, p. 397.

Publishers Weekly, October 30, 2000, review of The Two-Mile Time Machine, p. 57.

Science News, August 31, 2002, review of The Two-Mile Time Machine, p. 143.

Weatherwise, November-December, 2001, Stanley David Gedzelman, review of The Two-Mile Time Machine, p. 50.


Earth and Environmental Systems Institute Web site, (January 22, 2007), Samuel C. Colbeck, “Citation for Richard B. Alley: Horton Award, 1996.”

Pennsylvania State University Department of Geo-sciences Web site, (January 22, 2007), curriculum vitae of Richard B. Alley.

About this article

Alley, Richard B.

Updated About content Print Article