Amazon Expeditions My Quest for the Ice-Age Equator Paul Colinvaux

Publication date:
25 Apr 2008
Yale University Press
384 pages: 235 x 156 x 29mm
40 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

A gripping tale of exploration, the pursuit of ice-age records, scientific invention and controversy, and revelations about the great Amazon forest

In this vivid memoir of a life in science, ecologist Paul Colinvaux takes his readers from the Alaskan tundra to steamy Amazon jungles, from the Galapagos Islands (before tourists had arrived) to the high Andes and the Darien Gap in Panama. He recounts an adventurous tale of exploration in the days before GPS and satellite mapping, and a tale no less exhilarating of his battle to disprove a hypothesis endorsed by most of the scientific community.

Colinvaux’s grand endeavor, begun in the 1960s, was to find fossil evidence of the ice-age climate and vegetation of the entire American equator, from Pacific to Atlantic. The accomplishment of the task by the author and his colleagues involved finding unknown ancient lakes, lugging drilling equipment through uncharted Amazon jungle, operating hand drills from rubber boats in water 40 meters deep, and inventing a pollen analysis for a land with 80,000 species of plants. Colinvaux’s years of arduous travel and research ultimately disproved a hotly defended hypothesis explaining bird distribution peculiarities in the Amazon forest. The story of how he arrived at a new understanding of the Amazon is at once an adventurous saga, an account of science as it is conducted in the field, and a cautionary tale about the temptation to treat a  favored hypothesis with a reverence that subverts unbiased research.

Paul Colinvaux is senior research scientist, Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, and professor emeritus, The Ohio State University. He has published extensively on ecological topics and hosted the twenty-part PBS series, What Ecology Really Says. He lives in Woods Hole, MA.

"Colinvaux captures very well both the excitement and frustration that comes from long-term scientific endeavor."—Susanna Hecht, University of California, Los Angeles

"Amazon Expeditions combines an autobiographical account of a distinguished ecologist's career with a charting of the course of an important debate about the relationship between biodiversity and climate change in Amazonia."—Stephen Nugent, Goldsmiths College, University of London

Amazon Expeditions is a tour-de-force, presenting the development of an interpretation of major importance for both theory and conservation. I find the evidence compelling.”—Emily Southgate, Rutgers University

“There is a touch of Tolkien in Paul Colinvaux's engaging, masterly, story of his research career. A paradigm is destroyed and hypotheses are killed, ruthlessly or ruefully, as he seeks evidence of tropical climates in the Ice Age.”—Peter Grant, Princeton University

“An absorbing tale of scientific detection…a saga of muddy boots, microscopes and geology revealing the secret of Amazonia’s ice-age climate…a revealing combined portrait of field and laboratory science at work.”—Thomas E. Lovejoy, author of Climate Change and Biodiversity

"The author skillfully weaves in grueling experiences and hardships in the field with the excitement of obtaining good samples. . . . He makes a strong case that the Amazon essentially remained unchanged throughout the Pleistocene."—William E. Duellman, Quarterly Review of Biology

"The story is part picaresque and part polemic, at once a tale of adventure and a firsthand account of the deconstruction of a 'beautiful' theory. . . .Colvinaux has given us a most entertaining behind-the-scenes account of his challenging quest and worthy accomplishments."—Paul Barker, American Scientist

"An interesting book that aims at a wide readership, particularly...anyone interested in tales of explorations and the scientific search of the ice-age Amazon climatic history."--Sonia L. Fontana, Georgaphical Journal