Natural Environmental Change: The Last 3 Million Years

By A. M. Mannion | Go to book overview

10

Conclusions

10.1

Preamble

The last 3×106 years were indeed dynamic in terms of environmental change. Moreover, the collection of data on environmental change, and ideas relating to it, have been and continue to be dynamic. The inauguration of the glacial theory in the mid-nineteenth century was a major turning point in the history of the earth and environmental sciences. In the 150 years since the theory was proposed, enormous strides have been made in data acquisition and analysis. Unsurprisingly, however, just as many new questions have been formulated as have been answered. The concerns, at the start of the new millennium, about possible global warming, have sharpened many of these questions and have injected a sense of urgency into palaeoenvironmental studies. This is because the past is the only available precedent for likely future change, although it must also be acknowledged that there may be no real precedents from any period in Earth history. The human-induced change characteristic of the present and the last 200 years or more is occurring at a rate that has no geological counterpart; human activity has accelerated the dynamism of all Earth-surface and atmospheric processes.

Nevertheless, the record of the last 3×106 years of environmental change provides many important ‘lessons’ that are directly relevant to future environmental change. First, the record provides a means of determining the relationships between various environmental systems, notably the oceans, atmosphere and continental environments. Second, it provides an opportunity to identify climatic/ecological thresholds, i.e. the identification of the magnitude of climatic change, notably of temperature and precipitation, which generates ecological change. Third, the record provides a means of identifying trends, their patterns and their periodicity. These are all vital components of planning for future environmental change.

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