Manchester Metropolitan University

Climate change clues

Earth’s climate is changing rapidly, and understanding the impacts of these changes is vital. Dr Kathryn Adamson shows us where to look across the world for evidence of how climate has changed in the past, and how it may change in the future.

Climate and weather are notoriously difficult to forecast and predict. Complex ocean, atmospheric, and terrestrial processes are at work, making countless changes that form the larger global climate picture.

As human activities are causing the climate to change rapidly and more dramatically than ever before, it’s critical for the environment, and for future generations, that we understand how things might change. To do this, we rely on evidence of past climate patterns so that we can use them to predict the future.

Some of the best evidence for past and recent climate change is written into the landscape around us. Dr Kathryn Adamson, Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography shows us where you can find these climate clues - from the present day to thousands and even millions of years ago.

Climate clues

Mountain ranges may be the most dramatic demonstration of powerful geological activity from millions of years ago, but records of the Earth’s past, including the climate, can also be identified from many other features on the land.

Air bubbles within glacier ice are a vital source of historic climate data. By drilling deep into the ice, we can look at the makeup of the air from hundreds of thousands of years ago, plotting the change in atmospheric gases over the decades and comparing it with today.

Little glaciers tell the biggest stories

Small glaciers are especially sensitive to climate change, and they can act as an early indicator of what’s happening globally to the climate. Greenland contains many such glaciers surrounding the much larger Ice Sheet, and Kathryn and her colleagues spend time here examining the past and present glacier activity.

Ice age change

The end of the last Ace Age was a period of significant climate change, with glaciers leaving major scars on the landscape as they retreated. In Northern Europe, a vast ice sheet once extended high above what are now cities and towns, including Manchester.

The Mediterranean was also home to a number of glaciers during the Ice Age. Kathryn’s fieldwork also takes her here, to look at the ways in which glaciers and their meltwater streams have moved in the past. It’s a valuable record of how climate change played out in the past, many thousands of years ago. Fortunately, today’s climate makes it a bit more pleasant for extended fieldwork!

Study with us

Understanding climate change effects and mechanisms becomes ever more important across society. We offer specialist courses in Environmental Science and Physical Geography - and students of Geography and Environmental Science have the option to do a year abroad, as well as field work opportunities.  

For students interested in a career in climate science, we offer BSc Physical Geography and BSc Environmental Science degrees, or an MSc in Environmental Management and Sustainable Development for post-graduate students.

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