Deeper sea changes we have seen

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By Kirsten Peters

In the mid-1800s there was a smart geologist with a face as sharp as flint who worked in the American Midwest. In those days, the “Midwest” was quite close to the frontier of the country. It took some guts and imagination to live out there, and maybe Charles Whittlesey had both in abundance – for he clearly saw evidence of dramatic climate change in riverbanks and hillsides around him. For Whittlesey, the Ice Age was evident in almost every field and ridge.

Many geologists of the time were still skeptical of the new theory that Earth’s climate could change at all. It wasn’t easy to think that Mother Nature had once put the whole globe into a deep freeze, but my hero got on-board with the program early. He argued (correctly) that much of the upper part of our country had once been buried under thick, glacial ice, and he did so by pointing to specific pieces of evidence he could describe and draw.  

That alone would make Whittlesey commendable in my book. He looked at good evidence, published as widely as he could at the time, and argued for his views.

But this is what really impresses me. Despite the fact Whittlesey was living and working in the Midwest – pretty far from the ocean – he had the insight to see that the massive glaciers of the past must have changed global sea level drastically.

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