Natural Environmental Change: The Last 3 Million Years

By A. M. Mannion | Go to book overview

7

Environmental change in high latitudes (latitudes 60-90°N and 60-90 S)

7.1

Introduction

Whilst the last 3×106 years have been characterised by a dynamic environment globally, high latitudes have been particularly severely affected because they have experienced the direct impact of glacial advance. As is demonstrated by ocean-sediment records (Chapter 3), there were many cold stages during the last 3×106 years, possibly as many as fifty. Consequently high latitude regions, i.e. those regions north of 60°N and south of 60°S were actively glaciated for numerous periods, each lasting c. 100K years. Today, the high Arctic and Antarctic zones are experiencing glaciation and thus provide modern analogues against which to assess past processes and conditions.

Most of the evidence for high-latitude environmental change derives from the Northern Hemisphere. This is because of the greater extent of land area compared with the same latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere. Moreover, research on glacial deposits and processes traditionally has been most intense in Northern Hemisphere countries (Section 1.2). In recent years, however, ocean-sediment cores from the Southern Ocean have contributed to the current understanding of environmental change in the region. In combination with ice-core data from the Antarctic (Chapter 4), and increasing evidence from a variety of sources in southern Argentina and Chile, it is becoming possible to reconstruct some of the detail of environmental change.

Indeed, in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres the most complete record of environmental change is present in ocean sediments, with data from ice cores augmenting this record and, in some cases, notably the Greenland ice cores, creating considerable controversy. This is itself beneficial because it promotes research and calls results into question. It should also be noted that research in high latitudes is particularly important because of the predicted high susceptibility of such regions to global warming. Examining the impact of past periods of warming (and cooling) will contribute to the refinement of predictive models, and thus facilitate future planning.

-106-

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