Video courtesy of the NSF.
Study Past Climate to Predict Future
Climate scientists use "proxy data" to study climates of the past, before humans with thermometers began keeping temperature records. These "proxies" include tree rings, layers within ice cores pulled from glaciers and ice sheets, growth layers in coral, and layers of sediments from the bottoms of lakes and oceans.
Studies of past climates help us anticipate how Earth's climate may change in the coming decades as a result of global warming. Climate scientists are especially interested in previous "interglacial" (between ice ages) climates, when Earth was warm. The scientists seek to determine how high temperatures rose, how quickly the climate changed, and which parts of the globe warmed most and least.
Human influences on climate have already committed us to at least several decades of warming in the coming century. The better we can anticipate how our climate may change, the better equipped we will be to adapt to those changes. Studies of past climates help us more fully understand the changes we are seeing today and can expect in the coming years.
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The Spring 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist
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