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What Earth’s climate record and recent discoveries tell us about likely climate change in the 21st century – and why we should care

1.An explanation of why we know that CO2 is a common forcing factor in Earth’s climate that is seen in

  • our escape from “Snowball Earth” (about 650 million years ago, mya);
  • the end-Permian Mass Extinction (251 mya);
  • the early Cenozoic temperature U-turn (about 50 mya);
  • the glacial/interglacial cycles of the last million years (about 100,000-year intervals); and
  • the last 1,000 years.  Is there any possibility that the CO2 forcing factor is not still operating today? Are there any viable alternative explanations for the observed warming over the last 150 years?


  1. A description of what we know of the Earth’s climate history at three timescales, as shown in charts I, II, and III in the figure below. Indicate in your answers what happened and why: what were the causes of these changes? For the Cenozoic (the last 65 million years depicted in chart 1), say what happened and why at points A—E. DO NOT simply describe the curve; you must say what happened and why at points A—E.
  2. An explanation of how human civilization has been affecting the CO2 forcing factor since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century and the likely effects of this over the next 100 years. If you can, include a brief discussion of the the direct and indirect effects of atmospheric aerosols on the Earth’s energy budget (i.e., “global dimming”). Also, what is the third way than humans have altered the atmosphere that almost had catastrophic impacts on life at the surface?
  3. Forward-looking: 1) Include a brief discussion saying whether planting trees could be a solution to climate change impacts from global warming (c.f., TeamTrees vs REALITY!!); 2) Include a brief discussion of the methods that might be used to “geoengineer” Earth’s climate, the prospects for success and any drawbacks (limitations and  unwanted side effects; c.f., slides 43 on in Dr Robock’s presentation).
I Deep sea temperatures (same
as surface air temperature at the
Poles) during the Cenozoic
Temperature (°C)
II Temperatu

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