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Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Professor John Haslett: Reconstructing the Palaeoclimate

21st February 2008, 20:15 to 21:15, Collingwood College

The large computer models of the the global climate are in fact based on measured data covering little more than a century. Interactions between the atmosphere, the oceans and - of increasing importance - the cryosphere (the frozen part of the Earth's surface) are poorly understood.

The research community increasingly recognises the importance of the palaeoclimate as a source of information. For example, the latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change remarks that "during the last glacial period, abrupt regional warmings (probably up to 16 degrees C within decades, over Greenland) occurred repeatedly over the North Atlantic region". Such scenarios are beyond the level of detail of the climate models in current use.

What we know about the palaeoclimate is due to researchers, such as Prof Brian Huntley in Durham, who have shown that much quantitative information is available in proxies such as pollen in lake sediment, oxygen isotopes in ice cores etc. Indeed it is now possible quantitatively to reconstruct the palaeoclimate from such proxies. But such reconstructions are uncertain; indeed uncertainty about past and future climates is THE major problem in planning. Indeed, a more correct description of the task is the reduction, and statement, of these uncertainties in the light of the available data.

This talk will present several of the sources of uncertainty, and will outline how modern statistical methods can be used to study them jointly. It will be illustrated by data corresponding to the past 12 millennia at several sites in the British Isles.

Contact for more information about this event.