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Ice Ages & Past Climates


Moving Earth and Heaven

Moving Earth and Heaven

The mountains rise, are lashed by wind and weather, and erode. The rivers carry mud and debris from the mountains into the ocean, where they settle onto the relatively tranquil seafloor and are preserved. The sediments bear evidence about where they came from, what happened to them, and when. By analyzing, measuring, and dating these seafloor sediments, scientists can piece together clues to reconstruct when and how fast their mountain sources rose to great heights millions of years ago, and how the climate and other environmental conditions may have changed in response.

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Century-Long Drought Linked to Collapse of Mayan Civilization

New analysis of sediment samples from the southern Caribbean indicate that severe droughts occurred at the same time as the known collapse of the Mayan civilization. In a study in the March 14 issue of the journal Science, lead author Gerald Haug of Geoforschungszentrum (GFZ) in Potsdam, Germany, together with Konrad Hughen of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and colleagues report that sediments from the Cariaco Basin in northern Venezuela clearly show a dry spell that the Caribbean region starting in the seventh century and lasting for more than 200 years.

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Fossil Records Show Methane in Seafloor Sediments Released During Periods of Rapid Climate Warming

Scientists have found new evidence indicating that during periods of rapid climate warming methane gas has been released periodically from the seafloor in intense eruptions. In a study published in the current issue of the journal Science, Kai-Uwe Hinrichs and colleagues Laura Hmelo and Sean Sylva of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) provide a direct link between methane reservoirs in coastal marine sediments and the global carbon cycle, an indicator of global warming and cooling.

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Geochemical Archives Encoded in Deep-Sea Sediments Offer Clues for Reconstructing the Ocean’s Role in Past Climatic Changes

Geochemical Archives Encoded in Deep-Sea Sediments Offer Clues for Reconstructing the Ocean's Role in Past Climatic Changes

Geochemical Archives Encoded in Deep-Sea Sediments Offer Clues for Reconstructing the Ocean’s Role in Past Climatic Changes
Paleoceanographers are trying to understand the causes and consequences of global climate changes that have occurred in the geological past. One impetus for gaining a better understanding of the factors that have affected global climate in the past is the need to improve our predictive capabilities for future climate changes, possibly induced by the rise of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.

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Ground-Truthing the Paleoclimate Record

Ground-Truthing the Paleoclimate Record

Sediment Trap Observations Aid Paleoceanographers
The geological record contains a wealth of information about Earth’s past environmental conditions. During its long geological history the planet has experienced changes in climate that are much larger than those recorded during human history; these environmental conditions range from periods when large ice sheets covered much of the northern hemisphere, as recently as 20,000 years ago, to past atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases that warmed Earth’s polar regions enough to melt all of the ice caps 50 million years ago. Since human civilization has developed during a fairly short period of unusually mild and stable climate, humans have yet to experience the full range of variability that the planet’s natural systems impose. Thus, the geological record has become an extremely important archive for understanding the range of natural variability in climate, the processes that cause climate change on decadal and longer time scales, and the background variability from which greenhouse warming must be detected

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Sedimentary Record Yields Several Centuries of Data

Sedimentary Record Yields Several Centuries of Data

Natural climate changes like the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period are of interest for a few reasons. First, they occur on decade to century time scales, a gray zone in the spectrum of climate change. Accurate instrumental data do not extend back far enough to document the beginning of these events, and historical data are often of questionable accuracy and are not widespread geographically.

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