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What can the past tell us about future climate change? Scientists gather in Bristol to discuss Pliocene climate

Press release issued: 4 September 2013

Climate scientists from all over the world will be gathering at the University of Bristol next week [Monday 9-Tuesday 10 September] to discuss progress in understanding the Pliocene Epoch and its implications for future climate change.

The Pliocene, an interval of Earth history that spans 5.3-2.6 million years ago, is considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to be crucial to our understanding of Earth's climate system.

Dr Marcus Badger, a scientist at the University of Bristol, said: "The best way to understand how the Earth's climate system can react is to look at how it has operated in the past – and the Pliocene is the perfect time to study.  This workshop will draw together expertise from all over the world to do just that."

The Pliocene is one of the best partial-analogues for our own future as estimates indicate that atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels were likely in the range of 350-450 ppmv (parts per million by volume), comparable to current human-induced levels, and global temperatures 2-3°C higher than at present.

The workshop will discuss our current understanding of exactly how much warmer climate was and provide new constrains on estimates of pCO2 (the partial pressure of CO2 in the atmosphere and the ocean) for this time period.

It will also give further insights into how continental ice sheets, ocean circulation, and atmospheric patterns such as El Niño operated during the Pliocene.

Lead-convener, Dr David Naafs from Bristol's School of Chemistry said: "The results of the workshop are crucial for our understanding of a globally warmer world with elevated atmospheric CO2 levels and will define the future directions for the international research community."

The workshop takes place just before the first chapter of the fifth assessment report (AR5) of the IPCC is released later in September.  As such, it will showcase the most recent and relevant research results.

As part of the workshop, The Cabot Institute is hosting a public lecture by Professor Gerald Haug of ETH Zürich, a world-leading expert in past climates and ocean circulation who has worked extensively on the Pliocene.

In the lecture, which will take place on Monday 9 September at 6:30pm in the Wills Memorial Building, Professor Haug will show how society and climate have interacted over human history.  [Tickets are sold out but names can by added to a waiting list for returns here.]

The workshop is convened by University of Bristol scientists Dr David Naafs and Dr Marcus Badger with Dr Nabil Khélifi of GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research.  It is a direct successor to the 1st Pliocene Workshop that took place in Bordeaux in 2009.

The Cabot Institute

The Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol carries out fundamental and responsive research on risks and uncertainties in a changing environment.  Its interests include natural hazards, food and energy security, resilience and governance and human impacts on the environment.  Its research fuses rigorous statistical and numerical modelling with a deep understanding of interconnected social, environmental and engineered systems – past, present and future.  It seeks to engage wider society – listening to, exploring with, and challenging stakeholders to develop a shared response to 21st century challenges. 

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