Paul Colinvaux

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, an ecologist at the forefront of pollen research for the past 40 years, has turned his path breaking career into a scientific detective story, from his days as a graduate student drilling glaciers in the Alaskan tundra, to his explorations of lake beds in the steamy Amazon forest. . . . An exciting account of field work under challenging and sometimes dangerous circumstances, this is a rewarding read for anyone with an interest in environmental and biological history." —Publisher's Weekly

Books

Amazon Expeditions

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.

(Yale University Press, January 2008)