Long records also reveal that the Earth temperature and other aspects of the climate can change rapidly from one state to a different state (wet or dry, warm or cold). In particular, the last glacial interval from 60,000 to 20,000 years before present was characterized by large repeated changes in climate and ocean circulation between warmer (interstadial) and cooler (stadial) events termed Dansgaard-Oeschger cycles. Abrupt climate changes and some possible causes are described in the Paleo Perspective on Abrupt Climate Change.
Significant to the question of global warming, the possibility of future abrupt climate change is a topic of intense research. While some of the possible causes such as Laurentide ice sheet collapse are no longer relevant, other mechanisms such as re-organizations (changes) in ocean circulation could occur in the future. NOAA Paleoclimatology archives and distributes data describing abrupt changes of the past in an effort to improve understanding of the mechanisms responsible for abrupt climate change.
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