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Earth's Climatic History: The Last 10,000 Years
Near the beginning of the current interglacial, global temperatures rose considerably about 10,000 years ago to usher in a period of time referred to as the Holocene.  On the basis of temperature reconstructions derived from studies of latitudinal displacements of terrestrial vegetation (Bernabo and Webb, 1977; Wijmstra, 1978; Davis et al., 1980; Ritchie et al., 1983; Overpeck, 1985) and vertical displacements of alpine plants (Kearney and Luckman, 1983) and mountain glaciers (Hope et al., 1976; Porter and Orombelli, 1985), it has been concluded (Webb et al., 1987; COHMAP, 1988) that mean annual temperatures in the Midwestern United States were about 2 °C warmer than those of the past few decades (Bartlein et al., 1984; Webb, 1985), that summer temperatures in Europe were 2 °C warmer (Huntley and Prentice, 1988), as they also were in New Guinea (Hope et al., 1976), and that temperatures in the Alps were as much as 4 °C warmer (Porter and Orombelli, 1985; Huntley and Prentice, 1988).  In the Russian Far East, temperatures are also reported to have been from 2 °C (Velitchko and Klimanov, 1990) to as much as 4-6 °C (Korotky et al., 1988) higher than they are today; while the mean annual temperature of the Kuroshio Current between 22 and 35 °N was 6 °C warmer (Taira, 1975), and the southern boundary of the Pacific boreal region was positioned 700 to 800 km north of its present location (Lutaenko, 1993). 10,000-year temperature history A graphical representation of the mean global air temperature that results from the amalgamation of these several records, as prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Houghton et al., 1990) and presented in the accompanying figure, indicates that temperatures during the Holocene maximum were warmer than those of the past few decades for a period of time on the order of several thousand years.

In addition to exhibiting temperatures that were significantly warmer than those of today, the first half of the Holocene also produced several regions of significantly enhanced precipitation.  The hyper-arid core of the Sahara, for example, was actually moist at this time and contained many lakes (Fabre and Petit-Marie, 1988; Petit-Marie, 1991), as the summer monsoon migrated northward by some 600 kilometers (Ritchie and Haynes, 1987), helping to create the extensive groundwater deposits of that region (van Zinderen Bakker and Coetzee, 1980) and giving life to ecosystems that supported crocodiles, giraffes, elephants and gazelles (Crowley and North, 1991).  Increased monsoon moisture also extended across Saudi Arabia, Mesopotamia, and the Rajastan Desert of India (Bryson and Swain, 1981), drastically altering and enhancing the productivity of those lands as well.  Indeed, because of the perception that these many biospheric changes were of a positive nature, this much warmer period than the present is often referred to as the Holocene Climatic Optimum (MacCracken et al., 1990; Ciaia et al., 1992; Lutaenko, 1993; Lambin et al., 1996).  And it was during this particular warm interval that the world experienced perhaps the greatest of all anthropogenic advancements - "the rise of human civilization, based on the development of agriculture (Whyte, 1995)."

Bartlein, P.J., Webb, T., III. and Fleri, E.  1984.  Holocene climatic change in the northern Midwest: Pollen-derived estimates.  Quaternary Research 22: 361-374.

Bernabo, J.C. and Webb, T, III.  1977.  Changing patterns in the Holocene pollen record of northeastern North America: A mapped summary.  Quaternary Research 8: 64-96.

Bryson, R.A., and Swain, A.M.  1981.  Holocene variation of monsoonal rainfall in Rajasthan.  Quaternary Research 16: 135-145.

Ciais, P., Petit, J.R., Jouzel, J., Lorius, C., Barkov, N.I., Lipenkov, V. and Nicolaiev, V.  1992.  Evidence for an early Holocene climatic optimum in the Antarctic deep ice-core record.  Climate Dynamics 6: 169-177.

COHMAP Members.  1988.  Climatic changes of the last 18,000 years: Observations and model simulations.  Science 241: 1043-1052.

Crowley, T. J. and North, G.R.  1991.  Paleoclimatology, Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

Davis, M.B., Spear, R.W. and Shane, L.C.K.  1980.  Holocene climate of New England.  Quaternary Research 14: 240-250.

Fabre, J. and Petit-Marie, N.  1988.  Holocene climatic evolution of 22-23 °N from two palaeolakes in the Taoudenni area (Northern Mali).  Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 65: 133-148.

Hope, G.S., Peterson, J.A., Radok, U. and Allison, I.  1976.  The Equatorial Glaciers of New Guinea.  Balkema, Rotterdam.

Houghton, J.T., Jenkins, G.J. and Ephraums, J.J.  (Eds.).  1990.  Climate Change: The IPCC Scientific Assessment. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Huntley, B. and Prentice, C.  1988.  July temperatures in Europe from pollen data 6000 years before present.  Science 241: 687-690.

Kearney, M.S. and Luckman, B.H.  1983.  Holocene timberline fluctuations in Jasper National Park, Alberta.  Science 221: 261-263.

Korotky, A.M., Pletnev, S.P., Pushkar, V.S., Grebennikova, T.A., Raszhigaeva, N.T., Sahebgareeva, E.D. and Mohova, L.M.  1988.  Development of Natural Environment of the Southern Soviet Far East (Late Pleistocene-Holocene).  Nauka, Moscow, USSR.

Lambin, E.F., Walkey, J.A. and Petit-Marie, N.  1996.  Detection of Holocene lakes in the Sahara using satellite remote sensing.  Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing 61: 731-737.

Lutaenko, K.A.  1993.  Climatic optimum during the Holocene and the distribution of warm-water mollusks in the Sea of Japan.  Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 102: 273-281.

MacCracken, M.C., Budyko, M.I., Hecht, A.D. and Izrael, Y.A.  (Eds.).  1990.  Prospects for Future Climate: A Special US/USSR Report on Climate and Climate Change.  Lewis Publishers, Chelsea, MI.

Overpeck, J.T.  1985.  A pollen study of a late Quaternary peat bog, south-central Adirondack Mountains, New York.  Geological Society of America Bulletin 96: 145-154.

Petit-Marie, N.  (Ed.).  1991.  Paléoenvironnements du Sahara Lacs Holocenes a Taoudenni (Mali), Editons du CNRS, Paris, France.

Porter, S.C. and Orombelli, G.  1985.  Glacial concentration during the middle Holocene in the western Italian Alps: Evidence and implications.  Geology 13: 296-298.

Ritchie, J.C., Cwynar, L.C. and Spear, R.W.  1983.  Evidence from north-west Canada for an early Holocene Milankovitch thermal maximum.  Nature 305: 126-128.

Ritchie, J.C. and Haynes, C.V.  1987.  Holocene vegetation zonation in the eastern Sahara.  Nature 330: 645-647.

Taira, K.  1975.  Temperature variation of the "Kuroshio" and crustal movements in eastern and southeastern Asia 7000 years B.P.  Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 17: 333-338.

van Zinderen Bakker, E.M. and Coetzee, J.A.  (Eds.).  1980.  Palaeoecology of Africa, v. 12. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Velitchko, A.A. and Klimanov, V.A.  1990.  Climatic zonality of the northern hemisphere 5 or 6 thousand years B.P.  Proceedings of the USSR Academy of Sciences, Geographical Series, 5: 38-52.

Webb, T.  1985.  Holocene palynology and climate. In: Paleoclimate Analysis and Modeling.  A.D. Hecht (Ed.).  Wiley-Interscience, New York, NY, pp. 163-196.

Webb, T., Bartlein, P.J. and Kutzbach, J.E.  1987.  Climatic change in eastern North America during the past 18,000 years: Comparisons of pollen data with model results.  In: North America and Adjacent Oceans During the Last Deglaciation.  W.F. Ruddiman and H.E. Wright, Jr.  (Eds.).  The Geology of North America, v. K-3.  Geol. Soc. Am., Boulder, CO, pp. 447-462.

Whyte, I.D.  1995.  Climatic Change and Human Society.  Arnold, London, UK.

Wijmstra, T.A. 1978.  Paleobotany and climatic change.  In: Climatic Change.  J. Gribbin (Ed.).  Cambridge University Press, New York, NY.