Climate Change : the Rule in the Geological Record (Conference)

par Alain Préat

 The first aim of paleoclimate science is to identify from observations of the geological record, the  nature of past climate changes. Paleoclimate is probably the oldest discipline in Earth science, it began in the 19th-century, and earlier with the discovery of elephant-like beast in the superficial deposits of Europe and Siberia debate about the intepretation in the 18th-century. The debate was about these surface enviroments of temperate areas shaped by the biblic flood or by glaciers [Préat, 2015]. By the middle of the 20th-century, many climate features associated with the recent ice ages have been identified. Geological processes are critical to the evolution of the climate. The most important issue pertaining the earliest evolution of the Earth’s climate is that energy emitted by the sun has progressively increased over 4.6Ga.  Recontructing climate history from the inherently incomplete geological record requires integrated analyses including geochronology, paleomagnetostratigraphy, paleobiology, paleotectonics etc.  Climate change in the geological past is the rule, it has been reconstructed using a number of key archives (including sedimentary, geochemical proxies) since billion of years. These records reveal that since its birth the Earth’s climate as a rule has been warming up or cooling down with periods of (super)greenhouse and (super)icehouse modes, on scales of thousands to hundreds of million of years. The controlling factors are both cyclic (external or astronomical) and secular (internal to the Earth) and related to plate tectonics. For more than 90 percent of its 4.6 billion-year history, Earth has been too  warm, even at the poles, for ice sheets to form. We live  in unusual times at least from the cooling at the Eocene-Oligocene boundary (± 34 Ma)  with the glaciating Antarctica. The Earth was also severely glaciated several times in its history (e.g. about 750 and 535 Ma).  As an example of the conditions prevailing in the very warm times, oxygen isotopes suggest that the Archean seawater (4.0-2.5 Ga) coud have experimented hyperthermal environments, with temperatures as high as 55-85°C [Knauth, 2005 Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology,  Palaeoecology, 219 : 53-69]. Considering the Precambrian as a whole (4.6-0.541 Ga), prior to about 2.2 billion years ago, the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere and surface ocean was small, concentrations of CO2 were as high as 100-1000 times modern levels, as those of CH4 which were more higher. Complex microbial eocosystems developed during this period (sulfate-reducing bacteria, autotrophic methanogens, fermenting bacteria, anoxygenic phototrophic bacteria) and could have been important contributors to the biological productivity of early Earth. Past about 2.2 Ga the productivity began to be driven by oxygen-producing (micro)organisms.


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