Climatic Change

, Volume 122, Issue 1–2, pp 299–311 | Cite as

Research agendas in climate studies: the case of West Antarctic Ice Sheet research

  • William ThomasEmail author


Concern over anthropogenic climatic change has been the major driver behind the rapid expansion in climate studies in recent decades. However, research agendas revolving around other intellectual or practical problems motivate much of the work that contributes to scientific understanding of present changes in climate. Understanding these agendas and their historical development can help in planning research programs and in communicating results, and it can often elucidate the sources of disagreements between scientists pursuing differing agendas. This paper focuses on research agendas relating to the possible glaciological instability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). For much of the history of this research, which dates back to International Geophysical Year traverses, WAIS instability was thought of as innate rather than climatically triggered, even as a growing program of intensive field research was heavily motivated by tentative links drawn between WAIS instability and concerns over anthropogenic climatic change. Meanwhile, climate models for many years did not countenance instability mechanisms. It is only over the past fifteen years that field glaciological research has been integrated with other forms of empirical research, and that empirical studies ofWAIS have been more closely integrated with the broader body of climate studies.


Research Agenda Anthropogenic Climatic Change Anthropogenic Warming Christmas Tree Global Glaciation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This article was primarily researched while the author was an associate historian at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics (AIP). Spencer Weart and Greg Good are thanked for their support as directors of the Center. The writing of this article was supported by a Junior Research Fellowship from Imperial College London. It also benefitted from the input of Michael Oppenheimer and Jessica O’Reilly. Interviews and correspondence with Charles Bentley, Robert Bindschadler, George Denton, Terence Hughes, Philippe Huybrechts, Douglas MacAyeal, Eric Rignot, Robert Thomas, Johannes Weertman, and Duncan Wingham clarified the history substantially. Transcripts of interviews are deposited at the AIP Niels Bohr Library and Archives.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.History Associates, Inc.RockvilleUSA

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