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Paleo Slide Set: Coral Paleoclimatology:Natural Record of Climate change for High School Student
5-meter high colony of massive coral (Pavona clavus), Urvina Bay, Galapagos Islands.
It is important that we understand the climatic system, especially in the face of possible global warming. Most scientists agree that it is a possibility that global warming is occurring. However, the rate and amount of expected change are not entirely clear. There have been other warm periods in the Earth's history. We are now in an interglacial, or warm period, that began when the last Ice Age ended, about 10,000 years ago. Scientists know that many changes in climate have been, and can be, caused by natural forces.

Scientists need to know how much of the Earth's present warming is due to natural factors and how much is due to human activity. They also need to know at what rate climatic changes are happening. By knowing how much human and natural factors influence climate, scientists can suggest a plan of action to postpone global warming or help people adapt to it.

Just as the Earth's climate changes, the earth's surface changes too, as this slide shows. The earth's surface is constantly shaped and reshaped by incredibly powerful processes such as earthquakes. This 5-meter high colony of coral (Pavona clavus) is from the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. This reef, once underwater, was lifted high and dry during a turbulent period of earthquake activity in 1954. Examples such as this terrestrial reef are evidence that our planet is always changing. Most of these environmental changes however, are less dramatic than the rise of the ocean floor or the eruption of a volcano. One less dramatic change that we are able to investigate is the rate at which coral grows. By examining the growth rate of coral, scientists are able to determine what the climate was like when the coral was submerged and alive in the ocean.

Photo Credits:
Jerry Wellington
Department of Biology, University of Houston

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Last Modified: 12 October 2001

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