Previous Tyler Prize recipients have included some of the world's foremost researchers, including Jane Goodall, E. O. Wilson, Bruce Ames, Thomas Eisner, C. Everett Koop, Thomas Lovejoy, Roger R, Revelle, F. Sherwood Rowland, and Anne and Paul Erlich.
Thompson will receive his award, signified by a gold medallion and $100,000, at ceremonies next month at the University of Southern California, stewards of the award program.
"Professor Thompson's research is renowned across the globe and he and his team have emerged among the leading scholars studying global climate change," explained Karen Holbrook, president of Ohio State University.
"His three decades of research have offered indisputable evidence that the world's climate is changing and that serious consequences may follow if action is not taken soon. It is extremely fitting that he be selected for this high honor."
Thompson, a professor of geological sciences at Ohio State University and senior research scientist with the Byrd Polar Research Center, has become one of the world's authorities on the melting of glaciers and ice caps as a warning of rising global temperatures. He surprised the scientific community in 2000 by predicting that the vast ice cap atop Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro is likely to melt within 15 years.
Tyler Prize officials summed up his contributions to science saying:
"Through his ambitious research endeavors, Dr. Thompson is a leading national spokesman on the subject of global climate change and is considered one of the most respected voices in the world on related policy issues. His scientific research has already impacted, but will continue to influence, the future of the planet and its inhabitants."
For the past three decades, Thompson, along with his wife and research partner Ellen Mosley-Thompson, have argued that the first real evidence of an increase in global temperatures will come with the melting of tropical ice caps and glaciers.
Within those ice fields, they have argued, are trapped stratigraphic records of ancient climate, some stretching back more than 100,000 years. If the ice fields begin to melt, those historical records will be lost permanently and the clues they might contain to aid contemporary climate prediction would be lost forever.
To rescue those records, Thompson and his team have conducted nearly 50 expeditions to some of the Earth's most remote places, to drill ice cores and bring them back to Ohio State to extract those climate records. The expeditions, dating back to 1973, have taken him to Antarctica and numerous ice caps on five continents, some as high as 23,600 feet (7,200 meters). He is believed to have spent more time at altitudes above 18,000 feet (5,500 meters) than any other human.
Late last year, Thompson's research group reported the discovery of beds of preserved plants, uncovered by the retreating Quelccaya ice cap in the Peruvian Andes. The discovery of those plants suggests that the climate in that part of the world has never been warmer in the past 50,000 years than it is today.
In 2002, he was chosen for the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences and, along with Ellen Mosley-Thompson, was awarded the Common Wealth Award for Distinguished Service for Science and Invention. He also received the Vega Medal in that same year from the Swedish Academy of Science for advances in the field of geography. In 2001, he was named by Time magazine and the Cable News Network as one of America's Best Scientists.
Robert McGrath, senior vice president for research at Ohio State, said, "Lonnie's record of research and discovery is a great example of the service dedicated scientists provide to society.
"At the same time, his role as a mentor for students - both graduate and undergraduate - beginning their careers in science is a perfect example of how research and teaching are inseparable."
Richard R. Freeman, dean and distinguished professor of mathematical and physical sciences, said, "Lonnie Thompson is one of our finest researchers. This prize demonstrates not only his outstanding scholarship, but also the importance of his work for the American people. We couldn't be more proud."
Thompson's research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Geographic Society and the Comer Foundation, among others.
Thompson is joined this year by his co-winner, noted scientist Charles David Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Keeling is renowned for his pioneering work in establishing the "Keeling Curve" which documents that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been steadily increasing since.