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The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future
Richard Alley. Princeton University Press, 2000, 229
This book by climate scientist Richard Alley offers an engaging account of the
adventure of drilling ice cores on Greenland (and then analyzing them in
sophisticated labs) as a framework for talking about the history of our
planet's climate, especially the last 100,000 years, and its possible future.
With clear explanations of how and what scientists learn from ancient ice,
Alley lays out the evidence that human civilization has grown during an
unusually stable climate, one sharply different from what came before and may
Several recent "big-picture" books explore possible connections between
climate changes and human history, working to avoid past abuses of this topic
and using the more detailed information now available. Anthropologist Brian
Fagan, for instance, writes, "Climatic stress, when it does not bring complete
collapse, often acts as a spur to social reorganization and technological
innovation." For some interesting examples, see:
- Fagan's sweeping, thought-provoking
The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of
Civilizations (Bloomsbury Press, 2009), The Long Summer: How Climate
Changed Civilization (Basic Books, 2004), and The Little Ice Age: How
Climate Made History 1300-1850 (Basic Books, 2000)
- Historian Emmanuel Le Roy
Ladurie's groundbreaking, richly detailed Times of Feast, Times of
Famine: A History of Climate since the Year 1000 (Doubleday, 1971)
- Biogeographer Jared Diamond's
cautionary Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
- and these books by climate scientists:
William J. Burroughs's Climate Change in Prehistory: The End of the
Reign of Chaos(Cambridge University Press, 2005); Jean Grove's
Little Ice Ages: Ancient and Modern, 2nd edn. (Routlege, 1995); and
William R. Ruddiman's Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took
Control of Climate (Princeton University Press, 2005).
||articles & essays
Historians to Climate Researchers: Let's Talk
Here is Princeton's informative press release about a subscription-required
article by historians John Haldon and Lee Mordechai (published in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). History can add important
nuance to interpretations of how past societies have responded to climate
shifts (and other natural disasters), and in turn to thinking about how we
might best adapt to changes in our own futures.
Faced with Drought, the Pharaohs Tried (and Failed) to Adapt
Livia Albeck-Ripka, New York Times, March 2018
About a study looking at "how Bronze Age Egyptians used careful planning an
policies to adapt to a drought that lasted from around 1250 B.C. to 1100 B.C."
That planning seems to have won them another fifty years.
This Ancient Climate Catastrophe is Our Best Clue about Earth's Future
Sarah Kaplan, Washington Post, March 2018
Roughly 56 million years ago, huge amounts of carbon added to the atmosphere
raised Earth's temperatures some 5-8 degrees C, in what might be the best
analogue to our current era. The disruptions were dramatic, and it took over
150,000 years for the planet to recover. This readable article looks at the
researchers investigating the "PETM" (Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum), at
what happened then, at how today resembles this bit of the past, and at how
better understanding this history can illuminate our present and future.
Whalers Tale Sheds New Light on Arctic Ice
Tim Radford, Climate News Network, July 2014
Interesting story about researchers using whalers' logs to look at Arctic ice
extents and conditions between 1750 and 1850.
Wars, Murders to Rise Due to Global Warming?
Ker Than, National Geographic, August 2013
Interesting (and worrying) summary of a study published in the journal Science
that brings together findings from a wide range of fields (economics,
archaeology, political science, psychology, climatology) to reveal a
wide-spread link between higher temperatures and human aggression, both now
and in the past. You may have to sign up to read the article, but doing so is
free and straightforward.
RealClimate, March 2013
A very interesting Q&A by the authors of a study published in Science that
reconstructed the temperature record of the last eleven thousand years.
Technical but clear, with good links for those who wish to read more.
Tiny Frigid Bubbles Get to the Core of Climate Change
Michael Lemonick, Climate Central, May 2012
A very reader-friendly introduction to what and how scientists learn from the
bubbles they find in ancient ice.
Pan Inuit Trails Project
Created from 18th and 19th century maps and records and traditional Inuit
knowledge, this interactive database recording human presence in the Northwest
Passage is primarily historical but also to a significant degree current. One
aim of the project is to "help people visualize how many people are being
affected by climate change" in this part of the world. For a good story about
the project, by Henry Gass of ClimateWire (june 2014),
The Climate History Network
This site (begun in August 2010) contains references and resources for
historians interested in climate-and for others interested in the
intersections between human history and climate: tools for teaching and
research and news and updates about research on climate and history. Its aims
are "to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration between climatologists and
historians, to help reconstruct past and present climate change, and to place
current climate events in long-term perspective."
A comprehensive and welcoming gateway to clear explanations, data ("the
world's largest archive of climate and paleoclimate data"), and graphics about
Earth's past climates, provided by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC),
a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).