The shape of past climate provides a warning: everything can change quickly

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Sawtooth wave

It’s the suddenness that feels like a betrayal, severing the casting line of continuity. That unthinkable call, the collapsing spire, a briefly unattended child. A geological timeline of events blocked out into before and afters, as if different earths altogether, separated by a single nightfall. The feeling is always the same: a futile search for what could have been done differently. Sometimes the answer is nothing, and sometimes, cruelly, the answer is a lot.

When Willi Dansgaard was making oxygen isotope measurements on the first deep ice core drilled at the Camp Century military base on Greenland, he thought something must be wrong with the measurements; they seemed to change to heavier values — an indication of warming — much too quickly. He kept measuring deeper in the core and the ice kept telling the same story: it appeared temperature in Greenland could change by 10–15ºC on timescales of years to decades. …


Summer Praetorius

Paleoceanographer and climate scientist, pattern seeker, (micro)fossil hunter.

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