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Climate Change

Initial Publication Date: December 2, 2005

Given recent concern and controversy over global warming, it is not surprising that several courses and textbooks are now devoted to the history of Earth's climate and the forces that affect it. There are a number of relevant climate topics which rely extensively on an Earth history approach.

A section of a core drilled into the sediment at the bottom of a lake containing microfossils that can tell us about the climate at the time each sediment layer was deposited
  • Data-model comparisons: Climate reconstructions based on fossil and isotope data from various periods are compared with the output of climate models that have been run with their boundary conditions set appropriately for global ice cover, continent configuration, topography, etc. Good climate models are those whose output is very similar to the data reconstructions.
  • Past climate change: At various times in Earth's past, the climate has been markedly warmer or colder than it is presently. Not only are the causes and effects of those differences interesting to us, but so are the rates of climate change that the Earth and its systems have undergone.
  • Atmospheric composition in the geologic past: Air trapped in bubbles in ice thousands of years old contains considerably less carbon dioxide and methane than the modern atmosphere. The study of patterns and mechanisms of change in the concentrations of these greenhouse gases over time could fill an entire semester.
  • Non-anthropogenic sources of climate change: Solar variability and orbital forcing (Milankovitch Cycles) have been shown to affect climate before the Industrial Revolution.

Bob Jacobel's environmental science seminar on Global Climate Change takes an Earth history approach, using a substantial amount of primary literature and an Earth history text.


Below are web resources specifically relevant to climate change.

  • A Paleo Perspective on Global Warming. As part of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Paleoclimatology Program, information is collected from scientists across the globe to study past climate in hopes of achieving a better understanding of the Earth's past, present and future climate. This site was developed to help educate, inform and highlight the importance of paleoclimate research, as well as to show how paleoclimate research relates to global warming and other important issues of climate variability and change. It explains the details of global warming, why it is studied, and how it relates to climate and weather conditions. The image gallery illustrates how specific variables of global warming are studied and what the findings of this research indicate about changes in environmental conditions. (more info)
  • Climate Reconstructions. The NOAA Paleoclimatology Program archives reconstructions of past climatic conditions derived from paleoclimate proxies, in addition to the Program's large holdings of primary paleoclimatic proxy data. The site includes reconstructions of past temperature, precipitation, vegetation, streamflow, sea surface temperature, and other climatic or climate-dependent conditions. Users can access air temperature, hydroclimate, circulation and ocean data. This is a very comprehensive archive of paleoclimatology data. (more info)
  • United Nations Environment Programme: Climate Change. This portal provides access to information on the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) initiatives on the issue of climate change. Materials include UNEP's areas of focus on addressing climate change (climate, finance, and business; emissions mitigation; carbon sequestration; vulnerability and adaptation to climate change; and others); links to UNEP Climate Change Centres; links to partner organizations; and links to information and media activities. There are also links to multimedia materials (posters, films, and video), printed publications on climate change, maps and graphics, and links to other organizations working on the issue of climate change. ( This site may be offline. )