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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: December 2012

1 - An introduction to climate change

Summary

In most places on this planet's terrestrial surface there are the signs of life. Even in places where there is not much life today, there are frequently signs of past life, be it fossils, coal or chalk. Further, it is almost a rule of thumb that if you do discover signs of past life, either tens of thousands or millions of years ago, then such signs will most likely point to different species than those found there today. Why? There are a number of answers, not least of which is evolution. Yet a key feature of why broad types of species (be they broad-leaved tree species as opposed to ones with narrow, needle-type leaves) live in one place and not another has to do with climate. Climate has a fundamental influence on biology. Consequently, a key factor (among others) as to why different species existed in a particular place 5000, 50000, 500000 or even 5000000 years ago (to take some arbitrary snapshots in time) is because different climatic regimens existed at that place at those times.

It is also possible to turn this truism on its head and use biology to understand the climate. Biological remains are an aspect of past climates (which we will come to in Chapter 2). Furthermore, biology can influence climate: for example, an expanse of rainforest transpires such a quantity of water, and influences the flow of water through a catchment area, that it can modify the climate from what it otherwise would have been in the absence of living species. Climate and biology are interrelated.

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