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Five Million Years of Climate Change Found Preserved in One Location

Five Million Years of Climate Change Found Preserved in One Location

Information preserved within a sedimentary cliff over 260 feet tall is providing the missing link for understanding changes in global climate over the past five million years.

An international team of researchers, led by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany, has now succeeded in reconstructing changes in rainfall and its effects by studying Charyn Canyon in southeast Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

“The 80-meter-thick sedimentary sequence we found provides us with a virtually continuous record of five million years of climate change. This is a very rare occurrence on land,” explained paleo researcher Charlotte Prud’homme.

The alternating dust and soil layers provide the first reliable evidence, in one place, of long-term interactions between major climate systems on the Eurasian continent.

“Over the past five million years, the land surfaces of Eurasia appear to have more actively contributed to the land-atmosphere-ocean water-cycle than previously acknowledged. The sediments preserved at Charyn Canyon acted as a litmus test for the influx of freshwater into the Arctic Ocean, stimulating the transport of moist air masses from the North Atlantic back onto land via westerly air flows,” corresponding author Prud’homme says.

Providing good analogy for today’s high carbon atmosphere

The researchers focused their investigation on the Pliocene period five to 2.6 million years ago, which represents the best analogue for the climatic conditions of the Anthropocene: this geologic time period was the last time concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was comparable to today, around 400 parts per million (ppm).

“That’s why our insights from the Charyn Canyon sediments are so essential for understanding future climate,” Prud’homme says.

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