Earth’s Climate Evolution – a Geological Perspective on Climate Change

Geological Society of London blog

A guest post from Colin Summerhayes, Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge

Summerhayes-cover-designBefore we can understand how humans may be changing the climate, we need to establish a baseline. We have one in the geological record of past climate change.

Charles Lyell was among the first to demonstrate, in 1830, that the world had cooled since the Cretaceous. He thought this might reflect the movement of continents across climate zones.

Alfred Wegener put the meat on the bones of Lyell’s moving continents in the 1920s, when he and Wladimir Köppen used data on past climates to position past continents in relation to latitude.

By 1970, plate tectonic theory had vindicated Wegener. We now routinely observe and model past climate change for different time slices.

Lyell knew that celestial mechanics must also play a role in controlling climate through long slow changes in the Earth’s orbit and axial tilt. In the…

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