The Critical Zone

Reading About Paleoclimatology


Reading Assignment

Before we delve into the specifics of paleoclimatology, I want you to understand current views on the evolution of Earth's atmosphere and ocean system. Much of this information is highly theoretical, based on scant geologic evidence from the very distant past and computer models. However, this information will provide you with a baseline comprehension of natural variations in Earth's climate, for comparison to human-induced (or anthropogenic) causes of climate change.

I also want you to understand how politics can influence science. Some of the links below, specifically those from the US Environmental Protection Agency for Past and Recent Climate Change, are archived and not easily available - this is a function of a different attitude toward climate change research from our current president and his admininstration. Thus, I have provided other links to similar material though I encourage you to explore the EPA links anyway.

  1. View the short video entitled Life before Oxygen.
  2. Read the following book selections, which are available online through Library Reserves.
    • pp. 193–95, and Chapter 11 (pp. 207–29) in Kump, L. R., J. F. Kasting, & R. G. Crane. (2004). The Earth System (2nd ed.). Prentice-Hall.
      Pay attention to understanding the role of life in the development of the atmosphere, in particular to the content of atmospheric oxygen and various greenhouse gases.
  3. Review the following Web sites:
    • NOAA Paleoclimatology Branch—Paleoclimatologists rely on data collection from a variety of sources, and they require the application of powerful computer climate models to understand the data collected from the field. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) houses the National Climatic Data Center, which includes the Paleoclimatology Branch, the world's largest archive of climate and paleoclimate data. The scientists/administrators at/of the Paleoclimatology Branch join with international partners to expand the application of paleoclimatic data to understanding ongoing and future climate change. This site provides an excellent introduction to paleoclimatology and some of the lessons learned from the past—look to the left at this site, choose the PaleoPrimer link under Outreach, and work through the various headings on the left (what is paleoclimatology, why study climate, how is it studied, etc.), including following the hotlinks on each page. Once you have completed this task, return to the Paleoclimatology home page and familiarize yourself with other Outreach products that are available and may be useful for your classroom (slidesets and climate timeline).
    • Past Climate Change (EPA)Another excellent resource is available through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. At their site you will learn about natural causes and rates of climate change, specifically focused on the past 2,000 years. Many of the links at this site either guide you back to the NOAA Paleoclimatology site or to a glossary, while others guide you to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), National Atmospheric and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Research Council (NRC), all Federal agencies with a role in understanding climate change.
      • Instead, consider visiting NASA for information relevant to the no-longer-available EPA website.
    • Recent Climate Change (EPA)—Finally, visit this EPA site to learn about the most recent and ongoing climate change and the role of human society in this change. You will find some overlap in material, particularly when following the links, but this should serve to expand and reinforce your knowledge base and understanding of paleoclimatology and its relevance to society.