Earth's Climate: Past, present and future

About the Symposium

About the Symposium

H. Elderfield, M. Bickle, G. Allen, E. Shuckburgh


The anthropogenic forcing of climate will be one of the major issues faced by Human society over the rest of this century. Climate modelling predicts a rise of ~ 3°C in average global temperatures by the end of the century with significant impacts on rainfall distribution, storm events and rising sea level, all of which will impose major burdens on Human society. There are considerable uncertainties inherent in this modelling (not least, how society responds to the risk by moderating its behaviour). Critically, in addition to these estimated uncertainties, any complex physical system such as that which regulates the Earth’s climate is subject to non-linear behaviour and the presence of positive feedbacks which may cause amplification of climate change terms. Indeed such inherent instability is apparent throughout records of past climate.

The information on past climate and its variability has increased enormously over the last 10 years as a result of systematic sampling of ocean sediments by international drilling programs, drilling of the major ice sheets and the development of a whole range of chemical and isotopic proxies from measuring key climate parameters. Incorporating data from past behaviour is a powerful way to model the physics of complex physical systems. The full benefits of this archive of knowledge on past climate change have yet to be realised.

The purpose of the symposium was to bring together scientists involved in modelling future climate with those concerned with interpreting and modelling past climate. Action to mitigate anthropogenic climate change is urgent and lessons from past climate records provide the most compelling evidence of risk from future climate change. The symposium took advantage of the presence of leading experts in past, present and future climate to inform policy makers, their advisers and the public of the information available from past climate on the sensitivity of climate to perturbations and the additional risks arising from future climate change.

Key Objectives

The objectives of the symposium were to:

  1. enable archives of past climate change to be interpreted and exploited for a better understanding of our future climate
  2. raise awareness among public and politicians of evidence of the sensitivity of climate to small perturbations
  3. create an ongoing program of collaboration between groups modeling climate, interpreting past climate and publicising their results.