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GEOG5426: Class 1, Course introduction


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How has our climate changed in the past? What caused those changes, and can understanding the Earth’s climate history help us better predict the future? Does the past really matter?

In this seminar course, we will examine these questions through the lens of paleoclimatology, which uses physical and cultural evidence to make inferences about climates of the past. We will review the processes that govern our modern climate and explore what paleoclimate records tell us about how these systems respond to (and express) climate change.

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GEOG5426: Class 1, Course introduction

  1. 1. GEOG5426 Climate variations
  2. 2. Observations
  3. 3. “ The hills look like sawdust, really, that colour. I've never seen it where the grass didn't turn green in the spring before.” Jerry Murphy Elnora, Alberta source: Globe and Mail, 1 July 2009
  4. 4. Examples of key instrumental climate records (from Bradley, 2008) Central England temperature 1659 Mean global temperatures 1850 England and Wales precipitation 1766 Southern Oscillation Index 1866 Pacific Decadal Oscillation 1900 Indian Monsoon 1844
  5. 5. Climate history of North America Younger Demise of Laurentide Dryas Ice Sheet 20 16 12 8 4 0 THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO Final Drainage of Lake Agassiz LAST GLACIAL MODERN MAXIMUM OBSERVATIONS
  6. 6. CLIMATE PROXIES ice cores tree rings lake sediments speleothems corals
  7. 7. GEOG5426 Climate variations How has our climate changed in the past? What caused those changes, and can understanding the Earth’s climate history help us be er predict the future? Does the past really ma er?
  8. 8. Photograph: Rosa Say
  9. 9. Photograph: Heidi Barnett TOOLS Paleolimnology and paleoecology
  10. 10. TOOLS Dendrochronology
  11. 11. TOOLS Ice cores
  12. 12. “Paleoclimatology reveals what has actually happened.” Jonathan Overpeck University of Arizona
  13. 13. Did climate cause the failure of the Jamestown se lement?
  14. 14. Did drought and disease affect the Spanish conquest of the Aztec?
  15. 15. “There is nothing magical about the last one hundred years.” Balaji Rajagopalan University of Colorado
  16. 16. Is the Colorado River over-allocated? Photograph: Al_HikesAZ
  17. 17. MEGADROUGHT intensity at least equivalent to modern multiyear droughts duration longer than the several years to decade thereof Seager et al., Journal of Climate, 2008
  18. 18. Can climate change disconnect the Great Lakes?
  19. 19. “Common sense holds that what has really happened can happen again.” Vic Baker University of Arizona
  20. 20. AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard, Lt. Brendan Evans
  21. 21. “To anticipate future changes, we must understand how and why climates varied in the past.” Ray Bradley University of Massachuse s
  22. 22. CLIMATE FORCINGS El Niño during the Holocene
  23. 23. CLIMATE SIMULATIONS Climate reconstructions as model targets
  24. 24. GEOG5426 About me
  25. 25. (It was like this when we found it)
  26. 26. Pacific Decadal Oscillation index 3 2 1 0 -1 -2 -3 1900 1920 1940 1960 1980 2000
  27. 27. Office: 537 Social Sciences
  28. 28. GEOG5426 Nuts and bolts
  29. 29. Links to course syllabus, schedule at h p:// under ‘Teaching’
  30. 30. Course blog h p://
  31. 31. GEOG5426 Student opportunities • Lead discussions throughout the semester • Compose summaries of group discussions to serve as shared resource on the course blog • Research the climate history of a region of your choice • Summarize your findings in an AGU-style presentation and a 10-page paper
  32. 32. GEOG5426 The plan for today
  33. 33. Ray Bradley University of Massachuse s
  34. 34. Neville Nicholls Monash University
  35. 35. GEOG5426 Today’s discussion 1. Ray Bradley provides two examples that illustrate the value of a “Holocene perspective” on past drought. Which ideas in these examples could only be obtained from paleo evidence? 2. Neville Nicholls lists six reasons why climatologists study the past. Are all these reasons valid for research that depends on ‘natural’ archives? What is the difference between ‘modern’ and ‘past’ climates?
  36. 36. CLIMATE FORCINGS El Niño during the Holocene
  37. 37. Next week September 15, 2010 El Niño during the Holocene • Historical archives • Corals • Tree rings