How do we know that our current climate is abnormal?

Okay, so it has been a while since I uploaded. Time has been ticking, life has been…life-ing, but I’m back!

The next set of blog posts will be segments from the EPQ that I wrote for my A Levels. For those of you who don’t know, an EPQ or Extended Project Qualification, is an independent research-based project involves writing a dissertation on a topic or subject of your choice. I decided to combine my interest in engineering and the environment, and to allow myself to delve deeper into the past, present and future changes of the climate. The essay has been broken down into more bearable sized posts, but I hope you enjoy them as much I enjoyed writing it.

What has the Ice Age and Medieval Warming Period warned and taught us about our current environmental situation? (part 1)

In more recent years, we have been using the term ‘climate change’ to refer to the negative ideologies of changes in the Earth’s temperature, more specifically, the unprecedented rate of global temperatures caused by the uncontrolled rate of emissions. Many people are unaware of the cycles that the Earth has and will continue to undergo so become naive to the fact that the term climate change can also refer to the Earth’s more natural phases. Without the knowledge that climate change refers to long term changes, an everyday person will not feel confident that they can make a difference through the actions they take such as reducing their carbon footprint or moving to more sustainable energy providers. In this essay, I will be looking into whether we have been taught anything about two specific periods in time which are an example of the extremities that the climate can reach: the Medieval Warming Period and the Ice Age.

The National Geographic defines climate change as ‘the long-term alteration of temperature and typical weather patterns in a place. Climate change could refer to a particular location or the planet as a whole’. Many fluctuations in the Earth’s temperature can, and have already, caused several disastrous environmental catastrophes including an increase in sea levels worldwide, increased number of droughts in sub-Saharan Africa, forest fires in Australia and floods which take thousands and potentially millions of lives and cause many negative socio-economic implications. These fluctuations in the climate have been happening for many centuries and over millions of years, but it is only now that they are starting to become out of control due to the impact of mankind and the rapid increase in industrial processes that use fossil fuels as the main source of energy and product production. In the 1980s, the issue became more public as countries began to become more aware of climate change due to the unexpected shift in weather patterns.

In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected in the Fifth Assessment Report, together with scientific evidence, that to prevent causing a climate calamity, we needed to prevent the global temperature increasing by 2°C. Then in 2015, the UN brought about the ‘Paris Agreement’ in which 186 world leaders have now signed up to, which will allow for serious steps to be taken in the tackling of the climate crisis. However, we are now looking at a possible prevention of 4°C with the initial target being surpassed. An increase in 4°C could lead to mass extinction of hundreds, and possibly thousands, of animal species, widespread coral mortality and millions of people worldwide being adversely impacted with increased frequency of droughts, decreasing food availability and the loss of land and homes. However, have previous environmental events warned us of this climate catastrophe, making our actions a little too late?

There have been many events of varying significance in history that have caused a shift in the Earth’s climate cycle. These events have been caused by many contributing factors, such as the increased frequency of volcanoes and the change in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, making them powerful enough to amplify the warming or cooling caused by the slight changes within the different mechanisms.

How do we reconstruct the changes in the Earth’s temperatures?

To find out about different periods of climate history, paleoclimatologists, those who examine climate data to understand how local ecology and global climate looked in the past, turn to core boring as the primary means to collect data about climate cycles. Core boring is a sampling technique where cylindrical shaped wells into rock or ice to analyse the ground and is commonly used in the civil engineering industry. From these cores, large amounts of data on past climate variations can be obtained. Many remains are trapped in material, such as sediment, ice, fossils, gas bubbles and discoveries can be made through analysing them. These remains can clearly deconstruct the climatic history of the earth. This technique has been used more widely to investigate the history of the current climate crisis and to help researchers understand how long it has been occurring, if the crisis is just a phase in the Earth’s natural climate cycle or if it is really a catastrophic event. Research has been done on the Medieval Warming period, the period between 900 and 1300 AD, and the most recent Ice Age which occurred 2.6 million years ago. By comparing different periods in time, this can help scientists identify the causes of fluctuations in global temperatures and use the cyclical patterns to predict where we could be heading if we continue to burn fossils fuels at the rate that we are currently at or higher. I will be comparing these two periods of time by looking at their causes and comparing it to the causes of today’s change in climate, looking at whether they have warned or taught scientists and engineers about our current environmental situation.

The type of boring method used when trying to analyse historical data is very important and most commonly, auger boring is used. Auger boring is the process of forming a horizontal bore, a vertical hole, by forcing a steel casing through the earth from a main shaft to a reception shaft. The rotating augers (i.e. the drilling device) carries the soil back to the surface through the casing pipe to the main shaft for removal. It is an efficient and economical method that uses simple and inexpensive material to create holes of a variety of sizes. It is appropriate for soft to firmer soils and can also be used to determine ground water table. This method is seen to be better than other methods such as wash boring, a boring system by which material is loosened and is forced down through the pipe using water, or rotary drilling, a method used to drill deep boreholes in rock formations. However, it is not suitable for very hard or cohesionless soils as the soil could possibly flow back into the hole which could give false data about each layer of soil. Before any boring can be undertaken, samples of the soil are taken to determine the type of soil that is in the area, which is then used determine the boring method to be applied.

So that’s part 1 done! Stay tuned for the next one!

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