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Paleoclimatology (in British spelling, palaeoclimatology) is the study of changes in climate taken

on the scale of the entire history of Earth. It uses a variety of proxy methods from the Earth and
life sciences to obtain data previously preserved within things such as rocks, sediments, ice
sheets, tree rings, corals, shells, and microfossils. It then uses the records to determine the past
states of the Earth's various climate regions and its atmospheric system. Studies of past changes
in the environment and biodiversity often reflect on the current situation, specifically the impact
of climate on mass extinctions and biotic recovery.[1]


1 History

2 Reconstructing ancient climates

2.1 Ice

2.2 Dendroclimatology

2.3 Sedimentary content

2.4 Sclerochronology

2.5 Landscapes and landforms

2.6 Limitations

3 Notable climate events in Earth history

4 History of the atmosphere

4.1 Earliest atmosphere

4.2 Second atmosphere

4.3 Third atmosphere

5 Climate during geological ages

5.1 Precambrian climate

5.2 Phanerozoic climate

5.3 Quaternary climate

6 Climate forcings
6.1 Internal processes and forcings

6.2 External forcings

6.3 Mechanisms

7 See also

8 References

8.1 Notes

8.2 Bibliography

9 External links


Main articles: History of climate change science and Historical climatology

The scientific study field of paleoclimate began to form in the early 19th century, when
discoveries about glaciations and natural changes in Earth's past climate helped to understand
the greenhouse effect.The first observations which had a real scientific basis were probably
those by John Hardcastle in New Zealand, in the 1880s. He noted that the loess deposits at
Timaru in the South Island recorded changes in climate; he called the loess a 'climate register'.[2]

Reconstructing ancient climates

Palaeotemperature graphs compressed together

The oxygen content in the atmosphere over the last billion years

Main article: Proxy (climate)

Paleoclimatologists employ a wide variety of techniques to deduce ancient climates.


Mountain glaciers and the polar ice caps/ice sheets provide much data in paleoclimatology. Ice-
coring projects in the ice caps of Greenland and Antarctica have yielded data going back several
hundred thousand years, over 800,000 years in the case of the EPICA project.
Air trapped within fallen snow becomes encased in tiny bubbles as the snow is compressed
into ice in the glacier under the weight of later years' snow. The trapped air has proven a
tremendously valuable source for direct measurement of the composition of air from the time
the ice was formed.

Layering can be observed because of seasonal pauses in ice accumulation and can be used
to establish chronology, associating specific depths of the core with ranges of time.

Changes in the layering thickness can be used to determine changes in precipitation or


Oxygen-18 quantity changes (18O) in ice layers represent changes in average ocean surface
temperature. Water molecules containing the heavier O-18 evaporate at a higher temperature
than water molecules containing the normal Oxygen-16 isotope. The ratio of O-18 to O-16 will
be higher as temperature increases. It also depends on other factors such as the water's salinity
and the volume of water locked up in ice sheets. Various cycles in those isotope ratios have been

Pollen has been observed in the ice cores and can be used to understand which plants were
present as the layer formed. Pollen is produced in abundance and its distribution is typically well
understood. A pollen count for a specific layer can be produced by observing the total amount of
pollen categorized by type (shape) in a controlled sample of that layer. Changes in plant
frequency over time can be plotted through statistical analysis of pollen counts in the core.
Knowing which plants were present leads to an understanding of precipitation and temperature,
and types of fauna present. Palynology includes the study of pollen for these purposes.

Volcanic ash is contained in some layers, and can be used to establish the time of the layer's
formation. Each volcanic event distributed ash with a unique set of properties (shape and color
of particles, chemical signature). Establishing the ash's source will establish a range of time to
associate with layer of ice.