Computer modelling past climates

Reconstruction of the Arctic during the Pliocene
Climate model

Climate models are an important tool for both understanding past climates and making future predictions. They take the physics determined by studying the atmospheric and oceanic dynamics of the modern climate and apply them to climates under different conditions. In climate model simulations for the future typically the only change is the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

For the geological past many important, climate-affecting parameters can have changed. By modelling periods of the past we can not only understand more of the workings of past climates, but can also assess the performance of models used for future climate change prediction. While recent time periods give good data coverage and allow accurate measures of the quantities predicted by the models, looking deeper into geological time gives us much larger climate changes to test our models against and allows us to study long-term processes within the Earth System.

Modelling the Pliocene

The Pliocene is an important epoch to study, as it is largely the same as the present, but with relatively small changes that produce a significant global mean temperature increase.

The reconstructions of the mid-Pliocene Warm Period from the USGS PRISM Group allow high quality climate model simulations to be produced and much has already been learnt about this warm past climate. Previous modelling studies show the global mean temperatures to be similar to those predicted for 2100AD. However, much remains to be fully understood, with many of the mechanisms for warming remaining poorly known, poorly resolved or poorly modelled.

To get a full picture of the Pliocene a number of techniques will be required including data acquisition, data synthesis and climate modelling. The BGS Climate Change team in collaboration with the Sellwood Group for Palaeoclimatology at the School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, will model Pliocene and possible future climate change in order to contribute to the understanding of these warmer than modern climates and access their potential similarities.


Contact Dr James Riding, Palaeoclimate & Palaeoenvironment, for more information.