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Penultimate Interglacial Period – About 125,000 Years Ago

Changes in mean annual surface temperature for the Last Interglacial compared to the recent period as reconstructed from data and simulated by an ensemble of 16 climate model experiments in response to orbital and well-mixed greenhouse gas forcings. Proxy syntheses published by Turney and Jones (2010) and McKay et al. (2011). Graphic from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report.

We are in the current "Holocene" interglacial, which began about 11,500 years ago. As mentioned elsewhere, the middle of the Holocene was warmer than today, at least during summer in the Northern Hemisphere, due to changes in Earth's orbit changing the distribution of solar radiation received on Earth. For similar reasons, the penultimate interglacial (also commonly called the "Eemian") also had a climate different from today. In contrast to the Holocene, we have far fewer records from the Eemian interglacial because it took place about 125,000 years ago. It appears, based on proxy evidence, that global mean annual surface temperatures were warmer than preindustrial by about 1° to 2°C and that high-latitude surface temperature was at least 2°C warmer than present, but for reasons that are well known—the changes in Earth's orbit. Additionally, and similar to the mid-Holocene, warming was not uniform across the globe.