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Earth's Climate Evolution

Earth's Climate Evolution

C. P. Summerhayes

ISBN: 978-1-118-89737-9

Jul 2015, Wiley-Blackwell

416 pages



To understand climate change today, we first need to know how Earth’s climate changed over the past 450 million years. Finding answers depends upon contributions from a wide range of sciences, not just the rock record uncovered by geologists. In Earth’s Climate Evolution, Colin Summerhayes analyzes reports and records of past climate change dating back to the late 18th century to uncover key patterns in the climate system. The book will transform debate and set the agenda for the next generation of thought about future climate change.

The book takes a unique approach to the subject providing a description of the greenhouse and icehouse worlds of the past 450 million years since land plants emerged, ignoring major earlier glaciations like that of Snowball Earth, which occurred around 600 million years ago in a world free of land plants. It describes the evolution of thinking in palaeoclimatology and introduces the main players in the field and how their ideas were received and, in many cases, subsequently modified.  It records the arguments and discussions about the merits of different ideas along the way. It also includes several notes made from the author’s own personal involvement in palaeoclimatological and palaeoceanographic studies, and from his experience of working alongside several of the major players in these fields in recent years.

This book will be an invaluable reference for both undergraduate and postgraduate students taking courses in related fields and will also be of interest to historians of science and/or geology, climatology and oceanography. It should also be of interest to the wider scientific and engineering community, high school science students, policy makers, and environmental NGOs.


"Outstanding in its presentation of the facts and a good read in the way that it intersperses the climate story with the author's own experiences. [This book] puts the climate story into a compelling geological history."
 -Dr. James Baker

"The book is written in very clear and concise prose, [and takes] original, enlightening, and engaging approach to talking about 'ideas' from the perspective of the scientists who promoted them."
 -Professor Christopher R. Scotese

"A thrilling ride through continental drift and its consequences."
- Professor Gerald R. North

"Written in a style and language which can be easily understood by laymen as well as scientists."
- Professor Dr Jörn Thiede

"What makes this book particularly distinctive is how well it builds in the narrative of change in ideas over time."
- Holocene book reviews, May 2016

"This is a fascinating book and the author’s biographical approach gives it great human appeal."
- E Adlard

Author Biography xi

Foreword xiii

Acknowledgements xv

1 Introduction 1

References 7

2 The Great Cooling 8

2.1 The Founding Fathers 8

2.2 Charles Lyell, ‘Father of Palaeoclimatology’ 12

2.3 Agassiz Discovers the Ice Age 17

2.4 Lyell Defends Icebergs 20

References 25

3 Ice Age Cycles 28

3.1 The Astronomical Theory of Climate Change 28

3.2 James Croll Develops the Theory 29

3.3 Lyell Responds 32

3.4 Croll Defends his Position 33

3.5 Even More Ancient Ice Ages 34

3.6 Not Everyone Agrees 34

References 35

4 Trace Gases Warm the Planet 37

4.1 De Saussure’s Hot Box 37

4.2 William Herschel’s Accidental Discovery 37

4.3 Discovering Carbon Dioxide 38

4.4 Fourier, the ‘Newton of Heat’, Discovers the ‘Greenhouse Effect’ 39

4.5 Tyndall Shows How the ‘Greenhouse Effect’ Works 40

4.6 Arrhenius Calculates How CO2 Affects Air Temperature 43

4.7 Chamberlin’s Theory of Gases and Ice Ages 45

References 49

5 Moving Continents and Dating Rocks 51

5.1 The Continents Drift 51

5.2 The Seafloor Spreads 56

5.3 The Dating Game 61

5.4 Base Maps for Palaeoclimatology 62

5.5 The Evolution of the Modern World 65

References 68

6 Mapping Past Climates 71

6.1 Climate Indicators 71

6.2 Palaeoclimatologists Get to Work 72

6.3 Palaeomagneticians Enter the Field 75

6.4 Oxygen Isotopes to the Rescue 77

6.5 Cycles and Astronomy 78

6.6 Pangaean Palaeoclimates (Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic) 81

6.7 Post-Break-Up Palaeoclimates (Jurassic, Cretaceous) 87

6.8 Numerical Models Make their Appearance 94

6.9 From Wegener to Barron 98

References 99

7 Into the Icehouse 105

7.1 Climate Clues from the Deep Ocean 105

7.2 Palaeoceanography 106

7.3 The World’s Freezer 111

7.4 The Drill Bit Turns 114

7.5 Global Cooling 119

7.6 Arctic Glaciation 125

References 127

8 The Greenhouse Gas Theory Matures 132

8.1 CO2 in the Atmosphere and Ocean (1930–1955) 132

8.2 CO2 in the Atmosphere and Ocean (1955–1979) 133

8.3 CO2 in the Atmosphere and Ocean (1979–1983) 141

8.4 Biogeochemistry: The Merging of Physics and Biology 144

8.5 The Carbon Cycle 145

8.6 Oceanic Carbon 147

8.7 Measuring CO2 in the Oceans 148

8.8 A Growing International Emphasis 149

8.9 Reflection on Developments 150

References 152

9 Measuring and Modelling CO2 Back through Time 156

9.1 CO2: The Palaeoclimate Perspective 156

9.2 Fossil CO2 157

9.3 Measuring CO2 Back through Time 159

9.4 Modelling CO2 and Climate 165

9.5 The Critics Gather 168

References 176

10 The Pulse of the Earth 181

10.1 Climate Cycles and Tectonic Forces 181

10.2 Ocean Chemistry 188

10.3 Black Shales 190

10.4 Sea Level 193

10.5 Biogeochemical Cycles, Gaia and Cybertectonic Earth 194

10.6 Meteorite Impacts 196

10.7 Massive Volcanic Eruptions 199

References 203

11 Numerical Climate Models and Case Histories 207

11.1 CO2 and General Circulation Models 207

11.2 CO2 and Climate in the Early Cenozoic 211

11.3 The First Great Ice Sheet 215

11.4 Hyperthermal Events 218

11.5 Case History: The Palaeocene–Eocene Boundary 219

11.6 CO2 and Climate in the Late Cenozoic 222

11.7 Case History: The Pliocene 226

References 234

12 Solving the Ice Age Mystery: The Deep-Ocean Solution 240

12.1 Astronomical Drivers 240

12.2 An Ice Age Climate Signal Emerges from the Deep Ocean 242

12.3 The Ice Age CO2 Signal Hidden on the Deep-Sea Floor 248

12.4 Flip-Flops in the Conveyor 249

12.5 A Surprise Millennial Signal Emerges 251

12.6 Ice Age Productivity 253

12.7 Observations on Deglaciation and Past Interglacials 254

12.8 Sea Level 256

References 259

13 Solving the Ice Age Mystery: The Ice Core Tale 264

13.1 The Great Ice Sheets 264

13.2 The Greenland Story 264

13.3 Antarctic Ice 266

13.4 Seesaws 270

13.5 CO2 in the Ice Age Atmosphere 273

13.6 The Ultimate Climate Flicker: The Younger Dryas Event 279

13.7 Problems in the Milankovitch Garden 280

13.8 The Mechanics of Change 282

References 296

14 The Holocene Interglacial 302

14.1 Holocene Climate Change 302

14.2 The Role of Greenhouse Gases: Carbon Dioxide and Methane 311

14.3 Climate Variability 315

References 320

15 Medieval Warming, the Little Ice Age and the Sun 324

15.1 Solar Activity and Cosmic Rays 324

15.2 Solar Cycles in the Geological Record 327

15.3 The Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age 330

15.4 The End of the Little Ice Age 340

15.5 The Hockey Stick Controversy 347

15.6 Sea Level 353

References 358

16 Putting It All Together 365

16.1 A Fast-Evolving Subject 365

16.2 Natural Envelopes of Climate Change 366

16.3 Evolving Knowledge 367

16.4 Where is Climate Headed? 373

16.5 Some Final Remarks 375

16.6 What Can Be Done? 377

References 379

Appendix A: Further Reading 381

Appendix B: List of Figure Sources and Attributions 383

Index 389

"What makes this book particularly distinctive is how well it builds in the narrative of change in ideas over time." (Holocene book reviews, May 2016)

"This is a fascinating book and the author's biographical approach gives it great human appeal." (E Adlard 2016)

"I would recommend this book to all those with an interest in the climate (which should be all of us)" - Edward R. Adlard, Chromatographia 2016

"This is a marvelous book: the best serious, all-round, indepth book on palaeoclimate I have encountered. If you have space on your bookshelf for just one properly substantial volume on this huge and manyfaceted topic - well, look no further. This is it." Jan Zalasiewicz, Geoscientist Online, 2018