Palaeoclimate

Andrew Lorrey extracting a tree ring sample. Image: Tree Ring Laboratory, University of Auckland

Andrew Lorrey extracting a tree ring sample. Image: Tree Ring Laboratory, University of Auckland

Palaeoclimate records make use of the climate information that can be extracted and analysed from our natural environment.  Scientists gather data from sources such as tree rings, coral, ice cores and cave formations. The researchers determine how this palaeoclimate data relates to modern climate variations, then use this relationship to reconstruct temperature and rainfall variations for hundreds of years.

Palaeoclimatic research has the potential to provide a valuable historical perspective on past natural climate variability. Information derived from these records can be used as a baseline for efficient long-term management of our natural resources.

The SEARCH project will draw on palaeoclimatic data from:

The research team has already used palaeoclimate data to develop a preliminary rainfall reconstruction for south-eastern Australia since 1782.  In comparison to a wetter 19th century, south-eastern Australia has experienced a drier 20th century with a lack of prolonged rainfall since 1975.

Climate models predict that Australia’s densely populated south-east will become warmer and drier under climate change. But in order to establish how the current changes can be viewed in a context of long-term natural variability, these reconstructions of past climate are crucial.

A palaeoclimate highlight from the SEARCH project’s public talk at State Library of Victoria in August 2012