Phanerozoic Climate Change (Global Warming)


 Phanerozoic Climate Change

This figure shows the long-term evolution of oxygen isotope ratios during the Phanerozoic eon as measured in fossils, reported by Veizer et al. (1999), and updated online in 2004 [1]. Such ratios reflect both the local temperature at the site of deposition and global changes associated with the extent of continental glaciation. As such, relative changes in oxygen isotope ratios can be interpreted as rough changes in climate. Quantitative conversion between this data and direct temperature changes is a complicated process subject to many systematic uncertainties, however, it is estimated that each 1 part per thousand change in 518O represents roughly a 1.5-2 degrees C change in tropical sea surface temperatures (Veizer et al. 2000). Also shown on this figure are blue bars showing periods when geological criteria (Frakes et al. 1992) indicate cold temperatures and glaciation as reported by Veizer et al. (2000). All data presented here have been adjusted to the 2004 ICS geologic times-cale. The "short-term average" was constructed by applying a a = 3 Myr Gaussian weighted moving average to the original 16,692 reported measurements. The gray bar is the associated 95 percent statistical uncertainty in the moving average. The "low frequency mode" is determined by applying a band-pass filter to the short-term averages in order to select fluctuations on timescales of 60 Myr or greater.

On geologic time scales, the largest shift in oxygen isotope ratios is due to the slow radiogenic evolution of the mantle. It is not possible to draw any conclusion about very long-term (>200 Myr) changes in temperatures from this data alone. However, it is usually believed that temperatures during the present cold period and during the Cretaceous thermal maximum are not greatly different from cold and hot periods during most of the rest the Phanerozoic. Some recent work has disputed this (Royer et al. 2004) suggesting instead that the highs and lows in the early part of the Phanerozoic were both significantly warmer than their recent counterparts. Common symbols for geologic periods are plotted at the top and bottom of the figure for reference.

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