Humans are performing a high-stakes climate experiment by burning fossil fuels that release heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The outcome of that experiment is uncertain and computer models can do only so much to predict the future.
So scientists have been paying increasing attention to the geologic past, searching for possible lessons from ancient episodes of warming driven by natural processes which also might include emission of greenhouse gases. The research, discussed in a symposium at the 2006 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in St. Louis, suggests there could be some dramatic, potentially abrupt changes in store.
"Theres an awful lot of knowledge we can gain from past climates," says Mark Chandler, an atmospheric scientist at Columbia University. He has been studying a warming episode 3 million years ago during a period called the Middle Pliocene.
"If you go back in time, you have to go back to the middle Pliocene before you get to see a climate that was as warm as what we are going to see in the next 50 to 100 years in our own time," Chandler said.
Earl Lane | EurekAlert!
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