Reconstructing Earth's surface temperature over the past 2000 years: the science behind the headlines

Smerdon, Jason E.; Pollack, Henry N.

The last quarter century spans the publication of the first assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1990 and the latest report published in 2013–2014. The five assessment reports appearing over that interval reveal a marked increase in the number of paleoclimate studies addressing the climate of the last 2000 years (the Common Era). An important focus of this work has been on reconstruction of hemispheric and global temperatures. Several early studies in this area generated considerable scientific and public interest, and were followed by high-profile and sometimes vitriolic debates about the magnitude of temperature changes over all or part of the Common Era and their comparison to 20th- and 21st-century global temperature increases due to increasing levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases. Behind the more public debates, however, several consistent themes of scientific inquiry have developed to better characterize climate variability and change over the Common Era. These include attempts to collect more climate proxy archives and understand the signals they contain, improve the statistical methods used to estimate past temperature variability from proxies and their associated uncertainties, and to compare reconstructed temperature variability and change with climate model simulations. All of these efforts are driving a new age of research on the climate of the Common Era that is developing more cohesive and collaborative investigations into the dynamics of climate on time scales of decades to centuries, and an understanding of the implications for modeled climate projections of the future.


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Also Published In

Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Ocean and Climate Physics
Published Here
November 30, 2016


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