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Past Climate Changes and Uncertainty movie - Windows to the Universe

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The Spring 2011 issue of The Earth Scientist is focused on modernizing seismology education. Thanks to IRIS, you can download this issue for free as a pdf. Print copies are available in our online store.

Video courtesy of the NSF.

Past Climate Changes and Uncertainty

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.

By combining data from various proxies, climate scientists have been able to determine the history of Earth's climate extending back millions of years into the past. The proxies don't give us a precise measure of temperature; the temperature history they provide is a bit "fuzzy". However, even with this uncertainty, the data clearly shows that recent global warming outpaces any natural temperature rise that has occurred within thousands of years.

It is important to distinguish between uncertainty and disagreement. The vast majority of climate scientists and organizations that study weather and climate agree that our planet is currently experiencing a very unusual period of rapid warming.

Right-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac) here to download a copy of this video in QuickTime format.

Last modified September 15, 2010 by Randy Russell.

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The Fall 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist, which includes articles on student research into building design for earthquakes and a classroom lab on the composition of the Earth’s ancient atmosphere, is available in our online store.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF