By Mary Gagen, Swansea University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
“The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward,” Winston Churchill proclaimed to the Royal College of Physicians in 1944, invoking a much older idea known as “uniformitarianism”.
Coined by geologists James Hutton and Charles Lyell, this is the idea that past processes (like erosion or climate change) that have altered the Earth over time remain similar, so we can analyse them to understand the consequences of future processes – such as how climate change might shape our planet in the years to come.
This principle of looking to the past to see the future still guides the science of palaeoclimatology, or the study of past climates.
For example, the geological record tells us there were palm trees in Antarctica many…
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