What Prehistoric Change Reveals About The Future

An important part of being able to make forecasts of the Earth's future climate is to know how the Earth's climate has varied in the past and what mechanisms have made it vary. If paleoclimatology can help create past climate and give scientists a better idea of how climate has changed throughout time, it gives them important insight as to how today's actions will influence the trend of future climate, especially concerning global warming.

Since scientists have maintained a detailed record of the Earth's climate for the past 150 years, they have been able to determine that the temperature has warmed by 0.9°F (0.5°C). Because of its short duration, however, it is difficult to say how much of this warming can be directly attributed to humans, the burning of fossil fuels, and the enhanced greenhouse effect and how much of it is due to natural variations, such as solar variability and other factors.

Because the issue of global warming remains such a heated debate today among opposing groups, having paleoclimatic data is helpful because it gives scientists a handle on how much of the Earth's climate has naturally varied throughout time (under the influence of volcanic eruptions, orbital changes, and solar output) without any interference from humans.

According to NOAA, paleoclimatology helps scientists find answers to questions such as the following:

• Is the past 100 years of increased temperature and global warming normal?

• If the last century was abnormally warmer than it should have been, what does that mean?

• Is the recent rate of climate change normal?

• Is the recent warming something new or just part of an older, larger cycle?

• Is there any evidence of past climate forcings (outside factors forcing the climate to behave in a certain way) that could be actively contributing to the warming trend today of which we are currently unaware?

By being able to differentiate between natural and human input, approaching the issue of global warming can be much more scientific and yield better solutions. In other words, having a paleoclimatic perspective allows scientists to look back thousands of years to develop a more accurate picture of how the Earth's climate may change and affect everyone in the future.

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