Climate Change: Back to the Future?

Climate scientists are working intently on models that can forecast what Earth’s climate might be like in the future.  The evidence points towards a warmer future, thanks to increased greenhouse gas emissions from humans.

So why are climate scientists studying the distant past (paleoclimate), long before humans roamed the planet?  Well, it turns out that it’s hard to predict the future if you don’t know what happened in the past.  And it also turns out that Earth’s temperature has been warmer in the past.

The graph below (from the USGS) shows that sea-surface temperatures during the Pliocene Warm Period were warmer than sea-surface temperatures today.

By studying the causes of past warming, and trying to figure out how the temperature cooled back down, climate researchers will be able to make better models for predicting the future.

Will the forecast ever get so accurate that we can plan our retirement homes?  Probably not, but it’ll be interesting to see how close we can get!

Read the United States Geological Survey (USGS) report at http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2010/3021/.

To learn more about how we’re helping students explore unanswered questions about climate change, explore our High-Adventure Science project.

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