1-14 of 14 Results  for:

  • Past Climates x
Clear all


A History of Institutional Meteorology in the Philippines, 1865–1972  

Kerby C. Alvarez

Meteorology, as a science that has colonial roots, was cleverly devised to advance and increase the capabilities of colonies to be more beneficial for the state and the public. Its character as a public science was a by-product of a profusion of necessities—commercial demands , disaster mitigation mechanism, and scholarly pursuits. The Philippine experience in the development of meteorology is reflected in the institutional progress of the Observatorio Meteorológico de Manila (OMM) and the Philippine Weather Bureau (PWB). Originating as an atmospheric observation facility of the Jesuit professors at a burgeoning secondary school in Manila in 1865, it was absorbed and expanded by various state regimes in the Philippines for governmental programs and activities. The OMM’s and PWB’s scientific activities offered a form of public engagement and service under the pretext of various state projects instigated by the Spanish, American, and Japanese regimes, as well as the postwar-era Filipino governments. Essentially, these regimes used meteorological science to harness the benefits of modern weather forecasting to serve imperial programs in various fields—from trade, shipping, and agriculture to civilizational and war efforts. In congruence with the period of birth and formation of the Philippine nation, the institutional development of meteorological science accorded further intricacies to an already convoluted national narrative. The project of a state bureaucracy with proactive Filipino presence and participation coincided with the development of meteorology as a primordial agent of scientific development.


Changes in Precipitation over Southern Africa during Recent Centuries  

David Nash

Precipitation levels in southern Africa exhibit a marked east–west gradient and are characterized by strong seasonality and high interannual variability. Much of the mainland south of 15°S exhibits a semiarid to dry subhumid climate. More than 66 percent of rainfall in the extreme southwest of the subcontinent occurs between April and September. Rainfall in this region—termed the winter rainfall zone (WRZ)—is most commonly associated with the passage of midlatitude frontal systems embedded in the austral westerlies. In contrast, more than 66 percent of mean annual precipitation over much of the remainder of the subcontinent falls between October and March. Climates in this summer rainfall zone (SRZ) are dictated by the seasonal interplay between subtropical high-pressure systems and the migration of easterly flows associated with the Intertropical Convergence Zone. Fluctuations in both SRZ and WRZ rainfall are linked to the variability of sea-surface temperatures in the oceans surrounding southern Africa and are modulated by the interplay of large-scale modes of climate variability, including the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Southern Indian Ocean Dipole, and Southern Annular Mode. Ideas about long-term rainfall variability in southern Africa have shifted over time. During the early to mid-19th century, the prevailing narrative was that the climate was progressively desiccating. By the late 19th to early 20th century, when gauged precipitation data became more readily available, debate shifted toward the identification of cyclical rainfall variation. The integration of gauge data, evidence from historical documents, and information from natural proxies such as tree rings during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, has allowed the nature of precipitation variability since ~1800 to be more fully explored. Drought episodes affecting large areas of the SRZ occurred during the first decade of the 19th century, in the early and late 1820s, late 1850s–mid-1860s, mid-late 1870s, earlymid-1880s, and mid-late 1890s. Of these episodes, the drought during the early 1860s was the most severe of the 19th century, with those of the 1820s and 1890s the most protracted. Many of these droughts correspond with more extreme ENSO warm phases. Widespread wetter conditions are less easily identified. The year 1816 appears to have been relatively wet across the Kalahari and other areas of south central Africa. Other wetter episodes were centered on the late 1830s–early 1840s, 1855, 1870, and 1890. In the WRZ, drier conditions occurred during the first decade of the 19th century, for much of the mid-late 1830s through to the mid-1840s, during the late 1850s and early 1860s, and in the early-mid-1880s and mid-late 1890s. As for the SRZ, markedly wetter years are less easily identified, although the periods around 1815, the early 1830s, mid-1840s, mid-late 1870s, and early 1890s saw enhanced rainfall. Reconstructed rainfall anomalies for the SRZ suggest that, on average, the region was significantly wetter during the 19th century than the 20th and that there appears to have been a drying trend during the 20th century that has continued into the early 21st. In the WRZ, average annual rainfall levels appear to have been relatively consistent between the 19th and 20th centuries, although rainfall variability increased during the 20th century compared to the 19th.


Changes in Precipitation Over West Africa During Recent Centuries  

Stefan Norrgård

Water, not temperature, governs life in West Africa, and the region is both temporally and spatially greatly affected by rainfall variability. Recent rainfall anomalies, for example, have greatly reduced crop productivity in the Sahel area. Rainfall indices from recent centuries show that multidecadal droughts reoccur and, furthermore, that interannual rainfall variations are high in West Africa. Current knowledge of historical rainfall patterns is, however, fairly limited. A detailed rainfall chronology of West Africa is currently only available from the beginning of the 19th century. For the 18th century and earlier, the records are still sporadic, and an interannual rainfall chronology has so far only been obtained for parts of the Guinea Coast. Thus, there is a need to extend the rainfall record to fully understand past precipitation changes in West Africa. The main challenge when investigating historical rainfall variability in West Africa is the scarcity of detailed and continuous data. Readily available meteorological data barely covers the last century, whereas in Europe and the United States for example, the data sometimes extend back two or more centuries. Data availability strongly correlates with the historical development of West Africa. The strong oral traditions that prevailed in the pre-literate societies meant that only some of the region’s history was recorded in writing before the arrival of the Europeans in the 16th century. From the 19th century onwards, there are, therefore, three types of documents available, and they are closely linked to the colonization of West Africa. These are: official records started by the colonial governments continuing to modern day; regular reporting stations started by the colonial powers; and finally, temporary nongovernmental observations of various kinds. For earlier periods, the researcher depends on noninstrumental observations found in letters, reports, or travel journals made by European slave traders, adventurers, and explorers. Spatially, these documents are confined to the coastal areas, as Europeans seldom ventured inland before the mid-1800s. Thus, the inland regions are generally poorly represented. Arabic chronicles from the Sahel provide the only source of information, but as historical documents, they include several spatiotemporal uncertainties. Climate researchers often complement historical data with proxy-data from nature’s own archives. However, the West African environment is restrictive. Reliable proxy-data, such as tree-rings, cannot be exploited effectively. Tropical trees have different growth patterns than trees in temperate regions and do not generate growth rings in the same manner. Sediment cores from Lake Bosumtwi in Ghana have provided, so far, the best centennial overview when it comes to understanding precipitation patterns during recent centuries. These reveal that there have been considerable changes in historical rainfall patterns—West Africa may have been even drier than it is today.


Climate in the Barents Region  

Rasmus Benestad

The Barents Sea is a region of the Arctic Ocean named after one of its first known explorers (1594–1597), Willem Barentsz from the Netherlands, although there are accounts of earlier explorations: the Norwegian seafarer Ottar rounded the northern tip of Europe and explored the Barents and White Seas between 870 and 890 ce, a journey followed by a number of Norsemen; Pomors hunted seals and walruses in the region; and Novgorodian merchants engaged in the fur trade. These seafarers were probably the first to accumulate knowledge about the nature of sea ice in the Barents region; however, scientific expeditions and the exploration of the climate of the region had to wait until the invention and employment of scientific instruments such as the thermometer and barometer. Most of the early exploration involved mapping the land and the sea ice and making geographical observations. There were also many unsuccessful attempts to use the Northeast Passage to reach the Bering Strait. The first scientific expeditions involved F. P. Litke (1821±1824), P. K. Pakhtusov (1834±1835), A. K. Tsivol’ka (1837±1839), and Henrik Mohn (1876–1878), who recorded oceanographic, ice, and meteorological conditions. The scientific study of the Barents region and its climate has been spearheaded by a number of campaigns. There were four generations of the International Polar Year (IPY): 1882–1883, 1932–1933, 1957–1958, and 2007–2008. A British polar campaign was launched in July 1945 with Antarctic operations administered by the Colonial Office, renamed as the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS); it included a scientific bureau by 1950. It was rebranded as the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in 1962 (British Antarctic Survey History leaflet). While BAS had its initial emphasis on the Antarctic, it has also been involved in science projects in the Barents region. The most dedicated mission to the Arctic and the Barents region has been the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), which has commissioned a series of reports on the Arctic climate: the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) report, the Snow Water Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA) report, and the Adaptive Actions in a Changing Arctic (AACA) report. The climate of the Barents Sea is strongly influenced by the warm waters from the Norwegian current bringing heat from the subtropical North Atlantic. The region is 10°C–15°C warmer than the average temperature on the same latitude, and a large part of the Barents Sea is open water even in winter. It is roughly bounded by the Svalbard archipelago, northern Fennoscandia, the Kanin Peninsula, Kolguyev Island, Novaya Zemlya, and Franz Josef Land, and is a shallow ocean basin which constrains physical processes such as currents and convection. To the west, the Greenland Sea forms a buffer region with some of the strongest temperature gradients on earth between Iceland and Greenland. The combination of a strong temperature gradient and westerlies influences air pressure, wind patterns, and storm tracks. The strong temperature contrast between sea ice and open water in the northern part sets the stage for polar lows, as well as heat and moisture exchange between ocean and atmosphere. Glaciers on the Arctic islands generate icebergs, which may drift in the Barents Sea subject to wind and ocean currents. The land encircling the Barents Sea includes regions with permafrost and tundra. Precipitation comes mainly from synoptic storms and weather fronts; it falls as snow in the winter and rain in the summer. The land area is snow-covered in winter, and rivers in the region drain the rainwater and meltwater into the Barents Sea. Pronounced natural variations in the seasonal weather statistics can be linked to variations in the polar jet stream and Rossby waves, which result in a clustering of storm activity, blocking high-pressure systems. The Barents region is subject to rapid climate change due to a “polar amplification,” and observations from Svalbard suggest that the past warming trend ranks among the strongest recorded on earth. The regional change is reinforced by a number of feedback effects, such as receding sea-ice cover and influx of mild moist air from the south.


Historical Documents as Proxy Data in Venice and Its Marine Environment  

Dario Camuffo

The environmental history of Venice over the last millennium has been reconstructed from written, pictorial, and architectural documentary sources, used in a synergistic way. The method of transforming a document into an index and then into calibrated numerical values according to an international system of units has been applied in the case of Venice and its geographical and climate peculiarities. Because frost constituted a dramatic challenge for the city, a series of severe winters is well documented: The city was sieged by ice, meaning Venetians had to cross the ice transporting food, beverages, and wood for burning in carts, as recorded in written reports and visual representations. The sea level in the 18th century has been reconstructed based on paintings by Canaletto and Bellotto, who took advantage of a camera obscura to precisely draw the views of the city and its canals.. These paintings accurately represent the green algae belt that corresponds to the level of soaking created by marine waters at high tide. This has made it possible to measure how much the green algae (and therefore the seawater) has risen since the 18th century. Similarly, a painting by Veronese has enabled the reconstruction of sea level rise (SLR) since 1571. Another useful proxy is the water stairs of the Venetian palaces. These were originally built to access boats and are now (almost) totally submerged and covered with algae. As the sea level rose, these steps became submerged underwater. The depth of the lowest step is therefore representative of how much the sea level rose after the stair was built. This proxy has allowed the relative sea level since 1350 to be reconstructed, and an exponential trend in the rising of the sea level has been identified. Venice has at times been flooded by seawater, including tsunamis at the beginning of the second millennium. A long series of sea floods due to storm surges triggered by particular meteorological situations shows that the flooding frequency is related to the exponential SLR. In the 1960s, there was a sharp increase in frequency of flooding, which coincided with the digging of deep and wide canals, excavated to allow the passage of tankers. This increased the exchange of water between the sea and the lagoon. Proxies based on archaeological remains, as well as geological-biological cores extracted from the coastal area and dated with isotopic methods, cover long time periods; the longest record reaching 13 ka BP. However, the time resolution is reduced, thus providing good data for physical geography purposes.


Meteorology, Climate, and Health in the United States  

Elaine LaFay

Unraveling the connections between meteorology, climate, and health—all broadly defined—is an endeavor that cuts across an astonishing array of times, places, and peoples. How societies pursue and interpret these connections is deeply tied to sociocultural, environmental, and political context. In the United States, meteorological beliefs rested on shared assumptions rooted in ancient traditions that linked prevailing environmental and climatic conditions with human health. By the 17th century, the steadfast collection of meteorological phenomena in weather journals was tethered to medical knowledge as well as the pursuit of agricultural, business, and shipping ventures. Environmental conditions were routinely theorized as causes for epidemics and individual sickness (or cure). As meteorology changed from a practice of data collection to a science over the 18th and 19th centuries, its medical arm branched into the interlocking fields of medical meteorology, medical climatology, and medical topography. However, even with the rise of new meteorological technologies and methods, older ways of knowing the weather persisted alongside formal medical theories of health and place, and tacit, embodied knowledge was never fully supplanted by instrumental data collection. The science of meteorology also grew into being as a tool of empire. Imperial states established networks of meteorological stations to collect weather data to further colonial ambitions and foster politically charged geographic imaginaries of colonized places and peoples. But theorizing the relationship between climate and health was not restricted to white men of science. Black intellectuals and subaltern peoples held radically different cosmologies of climate and challenged prevailing essentialist theories of climate and health throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. In the 20th century, scientists situated changing climates as a key dimension for disease patterns and demographic transition more broadly. As historians make use of the increasingly sophisticated methods of historical climatology, past climate reconstruction has sparked new questions on how environmental conditions have both enabled and constrained human action during climate—and political, infrastructural—disasters. New interdisciplinary approaches to the climate crisis have further offered ways to bridge the disconnect between climate science and medical practice that emerged during the 20th century.


Poland’s Climate in the Last Millennium  

Rajmund Przybylak

The reconstruction of climate in Poland in the past millennium, as measured by several kinds of proxy data, is more complete than that of many other regions in Europe and the world. In fact, the methods of climate reconstruction used here are commonly utilized for other regions. Proxy data available for Poland (whether by documentary, biological, or geothermal evidence) mainly allow for reconstructions of three meteorological variables: air temperature, ground-surface temperature, and precipitation. It must be underlined however, that air temperature reconstructions are possible only for certain times of the year. This is particularly characteristic of biological proxies (e.g., tree rings measure January–April temperature, chironomids provide data for August temperature, chrysophyte cysts identify cold seasons, etc.). Potentially, such limitation has no corresponding documentary evidence. In Poland these data are available only for climate reconstructions covering mainly the last 500 years because the number of historical sources pre-1500 is usually too small. Geothermal data allow for reconstruction of mean annual ground surface temperature generally for the last 500 years. Reconstructions of air temperature that cover the entire, or almost the entire, millennium and have high time resolution are only available from biological proxies (tree rings, chironomids, diatoms, etc.). At present, the best source of information about climate in Poland in the last millennium is still documentary evidence. This evidence defines a Medieval Warm Period (MWP), which was present in the 11th century and probably ended in the 14th or early 15th century. Air temperature in the MWP was probably about 0.5–1.0°C warmer than contemporary conditions on average, and the climate was characterized by the greatest degree of oceanity throughout the entire millennium. A Little Ice Age (LIA) can be also distinguished in Poland’s climate history. Data show that it clearly began around the mid-16th century and probably ended in the second half of the 19th century. In this LIA, winters were 1.5–3.0°C colder than present conditions, while summers tended to be warmer by about 0.5°C. As a result, the continentality of the climate in the LIA was the greatest for the entire millennium. Mean annual air temperature was probably lower than the modern temperature by about 0.9–1.5°C. The average rise of air temperature since the mid-19th century, which is often called the Contemporary Warming Period (CWP), is equal to about 1°C and is in line with the results of reconstructions using geothermal and dendrochronological methods. The reconstruction of precipitation in Poland is much more uncertain than the reconstruction of air temperature. There was probably considerably higher average precipitation in the 12th century (and particularly in the second half of this century), in the first half of the 16th century, and also in the first half of the 18th century. The second half of the 13th century and the first half of the 19th century were drier than average. In other periods, precipitation conditions were close to average, including for the entire CWP period.


Post-Glacial Baltic Sea Ecosystems  

Ilppo Vuorinen

Post-glacial aquatic ecosystems in Eurasia and North America, such as the Baltic Sea, evolved in the freshwater, brackish, and marine environments that fringed the melting glaciers. Warming of the climate initiated sea level and land rise and subsequent changes in aquatic ecosystems. Seminal ideas on ancient developing ecosystems were based on findings in Swedish large lakes of species that had arrived there from adjacent glacial freshwater or marine environments and established populations which have survived up to the present day. An ecosystem of the first freshwater stage, the Baltic Ice Lake initially consisted of ice-associated biota. Subsequent aquatic environments, the Yoldia Sea, the Ancylus Lake, the Litorina Sea, and the Mya Sea, are all named after mollusc trace fossils. These often convey information on the geologic period in question and indicate some physical and chemical characteristics of their environment. The ecosystems of various Baltic Sea stages are regulated primarily by temperature and freshwater runoff (which affects directly and indirectly both salinity and nutrient concentrations). Key ecological environmental factors, such as temperature, salinity, and nutrient levels, not only change seasonally but are also subject to long-term changes (due to astronomical factors) and shorter disturbances, for example, a warm period that essentially formed the Yoldia Sea, and more recently the “Little Ice Age” (which terminated the Viking settlement in Iceland). There is no direct way to study the post-Holocene Baltic Sea stages, but findings in geological samples of ecological keystone species (which may form a physical environment for other species to dwell in and/or largely determine the function of an ecosystem) can indicate ancient large-scale ecosystem features and changes. Such changes have included, for example, development of an initially turbid glacial meltwater to clearer water with increasing primary production (enhanced also by warmer temperatures), eventually leading to self-shading and other consequences of anthropogenic eutrophication (nutrient-rich conditions). Furthermore, the development in the last century from oligotrophic (nutrient-poor) to eutrophic conditions also included shifts between the grazing chain (which include large predators, e.g., piscivorous fish, mammals, and birds at the top of the food chain) and the microbial loop (filtering top predators such as jellyfish). Another large-scale change has been a succession from low (freshwater glacier lake) biodiversity to increased (brackish and marine) biodiversity. The present-day Baltic Sea ecosystem is a direct descendant of the more marine Litorina Sea, which marks the beginning of the transition from a primeval ecosystem to one regulated by humans. The recent Baltic Sea is characterized by high concentrations of pollutants and nutrients, a shift from perennial to annual macrophytes (and more rapid nutrient cycling), and an increasing rate of invasion by non-native species. Thus, an increasing pace of anthropogenic ecological change has been a prominent trend in the Baltic Sea ecosystem since the Ancylus Lake. Future development is in the first place dependent on regional factors, such as salinity, which is regulated by sea and land level changes and the climate, and runoff, which controls both salinity and the leaching of nutrients to the sea. However, uncertainties abound, for example the future development of the Gulf Stream and its associated westerly winds, which support the sub-boreal ecosystems, both terrestrial and aquatic, in the Baltic Sea area. Thus, extensive sophisticated, cross-disciplinary modeling is needed to foresee whether the Baltic Sea will develop toward a freshwater or marine ecosystem, set in a sub-boreal, boreal, or arctic climate.


Quaternary Climate Variation in West Africa  

Timothy M. Shanahan

West Africa is among the most populated regions of the world, and it is predicted to continue to have one of the fastest growing populations in the first half of the 21st century. More than 35% of its GDP comes from agricultural production, and a large fraction of the population faces chronic hunger and malnutrition. Its dependence on rainfed agriculture is compounded by extreme variations in rainfall, including both droughts and floods, which appear to have become more frequent. As a result, it is considered a region highly vulnerable to future climate changes. At the same time, CMIP5 model projections for the next century show a large spread in precipitation estimates for West Africa, making it impossible to predict even the direction of future precipitation changes for this region. To improve predictions of future changes in the climate of West Africa, a better understanding of past changes, and their causes, is needed. Long climate and vegetation reconstructions, extending back to 5−8 Ma, demonstrate that changes in the climate of West Africa are paced by variations in the Earth’s orbit, and point to a direct influence of changes in low-latitude seasonal insolation on monsoon strength. However, the controls on West African precipitation reflect the influence of a complex set of forcing mechanisms, which can differ regionally in their importance, especially when insolation forcing is weak. During glacial intervals, when insolation changes are muted, millennial-scale dry events occur across North Africa in response to reorganizations of the Atlantic circulation associated with high-latitude climate changes. On centennial timescales, a similar response is evident, with cold conditions during the Little Ice Age associated with a weaker monsoon, and warm conditions during the Medieval Climate Anomaly associated with wetter conditions. Land surface properties play an important role in enhancing changes in the monsoon through positive feedback. In some cases, such as the mid-Holocene, the feedback led to abrupt changes in the monsoon, but the response is complex and spatially heterogeneous. Despite advances made in recent years, our understanding of West African monsoon variability remains limited by the dearth of continuous, high- resolution, and quantitative proxy reconstructions, particularly from terrestrial sites.


Quaternary Climate Variation in Eastern Africa  

Thomas C. Johnson

The people of East Africa are particularly vulnerable to the whims of their regional climate. A rapidly growing population depends heavily on rain-fed agriculture, and when the rains deviate from normal, creating severe drought or flooding, the toll can be devastating in terms of starvation, disease, and political instability. Humanity depends upon climate models to ascertain how the climate will change in the coming decades, in response to anthropogenic forcing, to better comprehend what lies in store for East African society, and how they might best cope with the circumstances. These climate models are tested for their accuracy by comparing their output of past climate conditions against what we know of how the climate has evolved. East African climate has undergone dramatic change, as indicated by lake shorelines exposed several tens of meters above present lake levels, by seismic reflection profiles in lake basins displaying submerged and buried nearshore sedimentary sequences, and by the fossil and chemical records preserved in lake sediments, which indicate dramatic past change in lake water chemistry and biota, both within the lakes and in their catchments, in response to shifting patterns of rainfall and temperature. This history, on timescales from decades to millennia, and the mechanisms that account for the observed past climate variation, are summarized in this article. The focus of this article is on paleoclimate data and not on climate models, which are discussed thoroughly in an accompanying article in this volume. Very briefly, regional climate variability over the past few centuries has been attributed to shifting patterns of sea surface temperature in the Indian Ocean. The Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) was an arid period throughout most of East Africa, with the exception of the coastal terrain), and the region did not experience much wetter conditions until around 15,000 years ago (15 ka). A brief return to drier times occurred during the Younger Dryas (YD) (12.9–11.7 ka), and then a wet African Humid Period until about 5 ka, after which the region, at least north of Lake Malawi at ~10º S latitude, became relatively dry again. The penultimate ice age was much drier than the LGM, and such megadroughts occurred several times over the previous 1.3 million years. While the African continent north of the equator experienced, on average, progressively drier conditions over the past few million years, unusually wet periods occurred around 2.7–2.5, 1.9–1.7, and 1.1–0.7 million years ago. By contrast, the Lake Malawi basin at ~10º—14º S latitude has undergone a trend of progressively wetter conditions superimposed on a glacial–dry, interglacial–wet cycle since the Mid-Pleistocene Transition at ~900 ka.


The NSF’s Role in Climate Science  

Anjuli S. Bamzai

In the years following the Second World War, the U.S. government played a prominent role in the support of basic scientific research. The National Science Foundation (NSF) was created in 1950 with the primary mission of supporting fundamental science and engineering, excluding medical sciences. Over the years, the NSF has operated from the “bottom up,” keeping close track of research around the United States and the world while maintaining constant contact with the research community to identify ever-moving horizons of inquiry. In the 1950s the field of meteorology was something of a poor cousin to the other branches of science; forecasting was considered more of trade than a discipline founded on sound theoretical foundations. Realizing the importance of the field to both the economy and national security, the NSF leadership made a concerted effort to enhance understanding of the global atmospheric circulation. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) was established to complement ongoing research efforts in academic institutions; it has played a pivotal role in providing observational and modeling tools to the emerging cadre of researchers in the disciplines of meteorology and atmospheric sciences. As understanding of the predictability of the coupled atmosphere-ocean system grew, the field of climate science emerged as a natural outgrowth of meteorology, oceanography, and atmospheric sciences. The NSF played a leading role in the implementation of major international programs such as the International Geophysical Year (IGY), the Global Weather Experiment, the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE) and Tropical Ocean Global Atmosphere (TOGA). Through these programs, understanding of the coupled climate system comprising atmosphere, ocean, land, ice-sheet, and sea ice greatly improved. Consistent with its mission, the NSF supported projects that advanced fundamental knowledge of forcing and feedbacks in the coupled atmosphere-ocean-land system. Research projects have included theoretical, observational, and modeling studies of the following: the general circulation of the stratosphere and troposphere; the processes that govern climate; the causes of climate variability and change; methods of predicting climate variations; climate predictability; development and testing of parameterization of physical processes; numerical methods for use in large-scale climate models; the assembly and analysis of instrumental and/or modeled climate data; data assimilation studies; and the development and use of climate models to diagnose and simulate climate variability and change. Climate scientists work together on an array of topics spanning time scales from the seasonal to the centennial. The NSF also supports research on the natural evolution of the earth’s climate on geological time scales with the goal of providing a baseline for present variability and future trends. The development of paleoclimate data sets has resulted in longer term data for evaluation of model simulations, analogous to the evaluation using instrumental observations. This has enabled scientists to create transformative syntheses of paleoclimate data and modeling outcomes in order to understand the response of the longer-term and higher magnitude variability of the climate system that is observed in the geological records. The NSF will continue to address emerging issues in climate and earth-system science through balanced investments in transformative ideas, enabling infrastructure and major facilities to be developed.


Use of Foraminifera in Climate Science  

Gerhard Schmiedl

The understanding of past changes in climate and ocean circulation is to a large extent based on information from marine sediments. Marine deposits contain a variety of microfossils, which archive (paleo)-environmental information, both in their floral and faunal assemblages and in their stable isotope and trace element compositions. Sampling campaigns in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were dedicated to the inventory of sediment types and microfossil taxa. With the initiation of various national and international drilling programs in the second half of the 20th century, sediment cores were systematically recovered from all ocean basins and since then have shaped our knowledge of the oceans and climate history. The stable oxygen isotope composition of foraminiferal tests from the sediment cores delivered a continuous record of late Cretaceous–Cenozoic glaciation history. This record impressively proved the effects of periodic changes in the orbital configuration of the Earth on climate on timescales of tens to hundreds of thousands of years, described as Milankovitch cycles. Based on the origination and extinction patterns of marine microfossil groups, biostratigraphic schemes have been established, which are readily used for the dating of sediment successions. The species composition of assemblages of planktic microfossils, such as planktic foraminifera, radiolarians, dinoflagellates, coccolithophorids, and diatoms, is mainly related to sea-surface temperature and salinity but also to the distribution of nutrients and sea ice. Benthic microfossil groups, in particular benthic foraminifera but also ostracods, respond to changes in water depth, oxygen, and food availability at the sea floor, and provide information on sea-level changes and benthic-pelagic coupling in the ocean. The establishment and application of transfer functions delivers quantitative environmental data, which can be used in the validation of results from ocean and climate modeling experiments. Progress in analytical facilities and procedures allows for the development of new proxies based on the stable isotope and trace element composition of calcareous, siliceous, and organic microfossils. The combination of faunal and geochemical data delivers information on both environmental and biotic changes from the same sample set. Knowledge of the response of marine microorganisms to past climate changes at various amplitudes and pacing serves as a basis for the assessment of future resilience of marine ecosystems to the anticipated impacts of global warming.


Vegetation at the Time of the African Humid Period  

Anne-Marie Lézine

An orbitally induced increase in summer insolation during the last glacial-interglacial transition enhanced the thermal contrast between land and sea, with land masses heating up compared to the adjacent ocean surface. In North Africa, warmer land surfaces created a low-pressure zone, driving the northward penetration of monsoonal rains originating from the Atlantic Ocean. As a consequence, regions today among the driest of the world were covered by permanent and deep freshwater lakes, some of them being exceptionally large, such as the “Mega” Lake Chad, which covered some 400 000 square kilometers. A dense network of rivers developed. What were the consequences of this climate change on plant distribution and biodiversity? Pollen grains that accumulated over time in lake sediments are useful tools to reconstruct past vegetation assemblages since they are extremely resistant to decay and are produced in great quantities. In addition, their morphological character allows the determination of most plant families and genera. In response to the postglacial humidity increase, tropical taxa that survived as strongly reduced populations during the last glacial period spread widely, shifting latitudes or elevations, expanding population size, or both. In the Saharan desert, pollen of tropical trees (e.g., Celtis) were found in sites located at up to 25°N in southern Libya. In the Equatorial mountains, trees (e.g., Olea and Podocarpus) migrated to higher elevations to form the present-day Afro-montane forests. Patterns of migration were individualistic, with the entire range of some taxa displaced to higher latitudes or shifted from one elevation belt to another. New combinations of climate/environmental conditions allowed the cooccurrences of taxa growing today in separate regions. Such migrational processes and species-overlapping ranges led to a tremendous increase in biodiversity, particularly in the Saharan desert, where more humid-adapted taxa expanded along water courses, lakes, and wetlands, whereas xerophytic populations persisted in drier areas. At the end of the Holocene era, some 2,500 to 4,500 years ago, the majority of sites in tropical Africa recorded a shift to drier conditions, with many lakes and wetlands drying out. The vegetation response to this shift was the overall disruption of the forests and the wide expansion of open landscapes (wooded grasslands, grasslands, and steppes). This environmental crisis created favorable conditions for further plant exploitation and cereal cultivation in the Congo Basin.


Zhu Kezhen 竺可楨 (1890–1974)  

Iwo Amelung

Zhu Kezhen (1890–1974), also known as Chu Coching, was a Harvard-educated meteorologist who worked in the field of climate sciences in China from 1918 to 1974. He was highly regarded under vastly different political regimes. His concerns regarding the development of observatory networks, educational practices, and the establishment of research topics reflect the development of the field in China, which only began at the very end of the 19th century. Zhu Kezhen was influenced by the meteorological and climate knowledge imparted to him by his academic teachers in the United States and appropriated Ellsworth Huntington’s ideas on climate determinism, which shaped some of his fundamental concerns. One of his main achievements was to make use of a wide array of observational and other data in order to contribute to the “localization” of climate science. In fact, employing data culled from traditional sources and making use of and expanding the phenological knowledge of traditional Chinese rural society allowed him to approach climate science in a way that was not easily possible in the West. Zhu’s research into historical climate change in China embodied many aspects of his approach to the localization of science in China, but changes in the international scientific network (from an American-European to a Soviet-dominated network) and the political turmoil in the People’s Republic of China greatly impaired his work. Zhu’s research remains highly influential and has exerted considerable influence on environmental and climate history.