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Vital Climate Graphics

Temperature and CO2 concentration in the atmosphere over the past 400 000 years

2. Over the last 400,000 years the Earth's climate has been unstable, with very significant temperature changes, going from a warm climate to an ice age in as rapidly as a few decades. These rapid changes suggest that climate may be quite sensitive to internal or external climate forcings and feedbacks. As can be seen from the blue curve, temperatures have been less variable during the last 10 000 years. Based on the incomplete evidence available, it is unlikely that global mean temperatures have varied by more than 1°C in a century during this period. The information presented on this graph indicates a strong correlation between carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere and temperature. A possible scenario: anthropogenic emissions of GHGs could bring the climate to a state where it reverts to the highly unstable climate of the pre-ice age period. Rather than a linear evolution, the climate follows a non-linear path with sudden and dramatic surprises when GHG levels reach an as-yet unknown trigger point.