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Geologic Time and Climate Change Science  February 18, 2013 – 10:23 am

The concept of geologic time is difficult to convey to introductory science students at any level.  In fact, it is a difficult concept for anyone.  The use of an analogy is probably the most effective way to convey this concept, for example, if a person extended his or her arms at their sides horizontally, the time represented by human history on Earth can be represented by passing a nail file one time over the index finger nail.  The time represented by the total length of the outstretched arms would represent the length of geologic time.  In the new textbook by Farmer and Cook (“Climate Change Science: A Modern Synthesis, Volume 1, The Physical Climate”), geologic time and events are a recurrent theme throughout the text.  The second volume in the series will be subtitled “Earth’s Climate History” and the emphasis will be on the most recent climate changes because those are what we know the most about.

diagram

Given that Earth is around 4.5 billion years old and the first 4 billion years or so is little known compared to the last .5 billion years, there is spotty evidence for climate change in the geologic record prior to the Cambrian Period (beginning about 540 million years ago).  Near the beginning of the Cambrian (slightly before 540 million years ago) rocks of Earth’s crust began to yield fossils of organisms that once lived in certain environments compared to current ones.  Many of these organisms, protists (single celled organisms), plants, and animals, lived in shallow marine waters and paleogeographers are able thereby to map ancient shorelines and the distribution of ancient seas.

Source: Skeptical Science

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