Introduction. Pliocene climate, processes and problems

Alan M Haywood, Harry J Dowsett, Paul J Valdes, Daniel J Lunt, Jane E Francis, Bruce W Sellwood

Abstract

Climate predictions produced by numerical climate models, often referred to as general circulation models (GCMs), suggest that by the end of the twenty-first century global mean annual surface air temperatures will increase by 1.1–6.4°C. Trace gas records from ice cores indicate that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are already higher than at any time during the last 650 000 years. In the next 50 years, atmospheric CO2 concentrations are expected to reach a level not encountered since an epoch of time known as the Pliocene. Uniformitarianism is a key principle of geological science, but can the past also be a guide to the future? To what extent does an examination of the Pliocene geological record enable us to successfully understand and interpret this guide? How reliable are the ‘retrodictions’ of Pliocene climates produced by GCMs and what does this tell us about the accuracy of model predictions for the future? These questions provide the scientific rationale for this Theme Issue.

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Footnotes

  • One contribution of 11 to a Theme Issue ‘The Pliocene. A vision of Earth in the late twenty-first century?’.

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