longer periods of time (millennia to hundreds of thousands of years) that are necessary to fully understand how Earth’s climate responds to, and recovers from, the levels of greenhouse gas forcing that will result from fossil fuel burning over the next century.


The National Science Foundation, U.S. Geological Survey, and Chevron Corporation, with input from the Geosystems initiative3 and the broader research community, commissioned the National Research Council to describe the present state of understanding of Earth’s geological record of past climates, as well as to identify focused research initiatives that would enhance the understanding of this record and thereby improve predictive capabilities for the likely parameters and impacts of future climate change. The study committee was also charged to present advice on research implementation and public outreach strategies (Box 1.3).

To address this charge, the National Research Council assembled a committee of 12 members with broad disciplinary expertise; committee biographical information is presented in Appendix A. The committee held four meetings between February 2008 and February 2009, convening in Washington, D.C.; Boulder, Colorado; and twice in Irvine, California. The major focal point for community input to the committee was a 2-day open workshop held in May 2008 (see Appendix B), where concurrent breakout sessions interspersed with plenary addresses enabled the committee to gain a thorough understanding of community perspectives regarding the status of existing research as well as future research priorities. Additional briefings by sponsors and keynote addresses from other speakers were presented at the initial meeting of the committee (see Appendix C).

The paleoclimate archive contained in the geological record both offers an opportunity and assigns a responsibility for Earth and climate science to effectively predict what is likely to happen as Earth warms and to offer projections with enough precision to assist society to mitigate and/or adapt to future changes. The examination of climate states in the deep-time geological record has the potential to provide unique information about how Earth’s climate dynamics operate over long time frames and during changes of large magnitude. Earth’s pending transition into warmer climates provides the motivation for the description of the understanding of past warm periods presented in Chapter 2, and the transitions into and out of different climate states over differing timescales is the


3 The Geosystems initiative is an interdisciplinary, community-based initiative focused on understanding the wealth of “alternative-Earth” climatic extremes archived in older parts of the geological record, as the basis for understanding Earth’s climate future. See http://www.geosystems.org/.

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