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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: July 2018

2 - Paleoclimatic History

Summary

Paleoclimatic history from the Eocene to the Anthropocene is summarized. First, the variation of temperatures over geologic time is reviewed. Geological records from ocean sediment cores and ice cores are described. The main climate drivers associated with orbital variations of the Earth and the global carbon cycle are noted. Then the climatic conditions during the major geologic epochs from the Eocene to present are discussed. During the early Eocene (56-34 million years ago, MYA) there was a Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum attributed to high carbon dioxide concentrations. Cooling around 34 MYA due to reduced atmospheric carbon dioxide led to Antarctic glaciation with major buildup around 15 MYA. The Plio-Pleistocene starting around 5 MYA, saw 40-kyr glacial cycles that switched to 100-kyr at 0.8 MYA. Large ice sheets formed and retreated over North America, Fenno-Scandinavia and the British Isles and West Antarctica. The post-glacial Holocene started at 11.7 kyr. The time when human influence began to dominate- the Anthropocene – is still debated. Polar amplification of global warming since the late 20th century is discussed, as is the role of poleward transport of heat and moisture by planetary waves.

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