These scenarios are not science fiction. Paleoclimate records indicate that climate changes of this size and speed have occurred at many times in the past. Past human civilizations were sometimes successful in adapting to the climate changes and at other times they were not.
Because they occur relatively rapidly, these sorts of climate change are called abrupt climate change. Our understanding of past abrupt climate changes and their causes is still in its infancy; most of the research on this topic has been completed since the early 1990s. Scientists have made significant progress, however, in identifying and describing various abrupt events of the past and forming hypotheses about their causes. This paleo perspective will describe the evidence for past abrupt climate change and explore some of the possible causes.
NOAA's Paleoclimatology provides the paleoclimate data and information needed to understand and model interannual to centennial scale environmental change. This site was created to introduce the topic and issues surrounding abrupt climate change, and to show how paleoclimate data can be used to understand the processes leading to abrupt climate change. Links to scientific research results and data sets are provided throughout the perspective.
Original online publication 19 May 2004. Updated June 2008.
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Please see the Paleoclimatology Contact Page or the NCDC Contact Page if you have questions or comments.