When the Ice Is Gone

What a Greenland Ice Core Reveals About Earth's Tumultuous History and Perilous Future

27 September 2024

Territory Rights — Worldwide.

Paul Bierman (Author)


Paul Bierman’s realisation that Greenland’s ice sheet melted when Earth was no warmer than today sounds an alarm for our planet

In 2018, lumps of frozen soil, collected from the bottom of the world’s first deep ice core and lost for decades, reappeared in Denmark. When geologist Paul Bierman and his team first melted a piece of this unique material, they were shocked to find perfectly preserved leaves, twigs and moss. That observation led them to a startling discovery: Greenland’s ice sheet had melted naturally before, about 400,000 years ago. The remote island’s ice was far more fragile than scientists had realised—unstable even without human interference.

In When the Ice Is Gone, Bierman traces the story of this extraordinary finding, revealing how it radically changes our understanding of the Earth and its climate. A longtime researcher in Greenland, he begins with a brief history of the island, both human and geological, explaining how over the last century scientists have learned to read the historical record in ice, deciphering when volcanoes exploded and humans started driving cars fuelled by leaded gasoline.

For the origins of ice coring, Bierman brings us to Camp Century, a US military base built inside Greenland’s ice sheet, where engineers first drilled through mile-thick ice and into the frozen soil beneath. Decades later, a few feet of that long-frozen earth would reveal its secrets—ancient warmth and melted ice.

Changes in Greenland reverberate around the world, with ice melting high in the arctic affecting people everywhere. Bierman explores how losing Greenland’s ice will catalyse devastating events if we don’t change course and address climate change now.


"A remarkable scientific detective story, told with panache—and carrying a very real and dangerous sting. Read it, and then do something about it." — Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature

"We are Scrooge and Bierman is Marley’s ghost with a fascinating tale, all too true, of a great ice sheet that holds our future." — James E. Hansen, director of Columbia University's Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions

"Paul Bierman paints a vivid portrait not only of the human characters involved with exploration of the Greenland ice cap but also of the personality of the ice itself. Both the humans and the ice are more idiosyncratic—and more sensitive—than one might expect. When the Ice is Gone is a cautionary story about hubris in the Anthropocene." — Marcia Bjornerud, author of Timefulness

"In his gripping new book, When the Ice Is Gone, paleoclimate expert Paul Bierman provides a firsthand account—through the lens of science and history, of how human-caused warming is rapidly melting the massive Greenland ice sheet and the dire consequences this poses for us and our planet. Read this book to be informed about the problem and inspired to make a difference." — Michael E. Mann, author of Our Fragile Moment

"When the Ice is Gone tells the story of the scientists who pieced together the history of the Greenland ice sheet and, as a result, can now peer into its future. Paul Bierman, is himself one of these scientists, and he brings to his subject a deep affection and a wealth of experience. The result is at once fascinating, sobering, and eye-opening. " — Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction



160 x 236 mm • 304 pages


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