Paleoclimate: Climate Change Through Time

Compiled by Monica Bruckner at SERC.

This section provides access to a spectrum of visualizations and supporting material that can be used effectively to teach students about paleoclimate through geologic time. Visualizations include simple animations, GIS-based animated maps, paleogeographic maps, as well as numerous illustrations and photos.

Click here to browse the complete set of Visualization Collections.

Paleoclimate Variability and Timescales 

Milankovich Cycles, W. W. Norton (more info) This Flash animation outlines the concepts on which Milankovitch Cycles are based. It explains how regular variations in orbital eccentricity, changes in the tilt of the Earth's axis, and the precession of the Earth's axis contribute to changes in global climate. To access this animation, click on the "view animation" icon located on the right hand side of the "Milankovitch Cycles" description. The animation can be paused and rewound to emphasize important points. To view all content, click on the "next view" icon to advance to the next animation frame.

Climate TimeLine Information Tool ( This site may be offline. ) A narrative text with many embedded links to visualizations describes and illustrates aspects of paleoclimate climate. This NOAA site points out the different aspects of paleoclimate change that operate on different timescales.

Climate Timeline Tool: What is Variability? ( This site may be offline. ) An overview of climate variability from 10^10; yr to 10^-3; time scales that employs mouse rollovers for definitions of specific climate processes. This NOAA site points out the different aspects of the climate system that operate on different time scales.

Paleoclimatic Change 

Retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet (more info) This video shows the retreat of the Laurentide ice sheet that covered much of North America from 18,000 to 8,000 years ago.

Snowball Earth, W. W. Norton (more info) The linked Flash animation illustrates the snowball earth hypothesis, that 900 million years ago, the entire terrestrial and oceanic earth surface was covered in ice. The animation demonstrates four proposed stages in snowball earth formation and destruction: normal, metastable, runaway snowball, and runaway greenhouse. This is part of a series of animations developed to help students visualize dynamic earth processes. The series is a component of a website that supports the textbook, Earth: Portrait of a Planet.

Land Use Changes Animation (more info) Animated GIF of global land use change between 1700 and 2000 from the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment and the Dutch National Institute of Public Health and the Environment.
Paleoclimate Data GIS (including maps of Last Glacial Maximum) (more info) Web-based GIS linking to various paleoclimatic records including shapefiles of vegetation and land cover during Last Glacial Maximum.

A Journey to a New Land: Bering Land Bridge ( This site may be offline. ) This page is part of an exhibit in the Simon Fraser University Museum entitled A Journey to a New Land about the coming of the first humans to North and South America. The page presents an animation of the effects of post-glacial seal level rise on the area known as Beringia and the Bering Land Bridge.

NOAA Paleoclimatology Program (more info) This site is a clearinghouse of information, data and visualizations from NOAAs Paleoclimatology Program. A number of resources are available here, including:

Modern and Fossil Pollen Data ( This site may be offline. )
Pollen Viewer (more info) Java animations of vegetation dynamics from 21KYA to modern in North America by Phil Leduc based on a variety of pollen records.
Paleo Website Java Animations (more info)
Visualizations of Paleoclimate Model data (more info) Java map animations of paleoclimate model runs from NASA and NCAR for a variety of time coverages.
WebMapper (more info) a client-sided Geospatial data access tool, provides map-based data discovery to an array of paleoclimate data from the World Data Center for Paleoclimatology.