A quick guide to paleoclimate in the IPCC AR6 2021 report
Last updated by Basil Davis 26 April 2022
The latest IPCC report "AR6 Climate Change 2021: The physical science basis" provides an excellent overview of our current scientific understanding of the climate system and climate change. In AR1-AR5 paleoclimate had its own dedicated chapter, but in AR6 paleoclimate is distributed throughout the different chapters.
To make it easier to find all of the relevant paleoclimate information, you can find below a full list of quick links to all of the sections that mention paleoclimate. This is preceded by an overview kindly provided by Darrell Kaufmann, IPCC AR6 Lead Author. Note that the links may not work in some browsers working on older operating systems (Safari) and/or with certain security settings.
There is also a short paleo section in chapter 1 of the working group II report which you can directly link to here "AR6 Climate Change 2021: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. "
An overview of paleoclimate in the IPCC AR6
SPM = Summary for Policy Makers
CSB = Cross Section Box
CCB = Cross Chapter Box
TS = Technical Summary
SPM A.2.2 is selected statements from Ch 2 on increasingly UNPRECEDENTED CHANGES across the climate system over centuries to millennia (see Ch 2.2 for forcings, 2.3 & Fig 2.34 for indicators). Fig SPM.1 & CSB TS.1 place instrumental temperature into long-term context.
SPM B.1.1 is on global temperature projections, with comparisons to warm paleo reference periods. Fig TS.1 shows CENOZOIC TEMP AND CO2 HISTORY compared with projections. Fig TS.9 depicts greenhouse gases across time scales. TS.2.2 summarizes changes in CLIMATE DRIVERS.
SPM B.5.1 is on IRREVERSIBILITY OF OCEAN & CRYOSPHERE CHANGES over centuries to millennia, grounded in paleo understanding from Ch 9 (220.127.116.11, 18.104.22.168). B.5.4 is projections of sea level rise, with comparisons to warm paleo reference periods (Box TS.4, Ch 9.6.2, 22.214.171.124).
SPM C.3.4 & C.3.5 are on LOW-LIKELIHOOD, HIGH-IMPACT OUTCOMES, including effects of AMOC collapse and a sequence of large volcanic eruptions, respectively, grounded partly in paleo information in Ch 8 & 9, and CCB 4.1.
TS Box TS.2 brings together PROXY- AND MODEL-BASED estimates of global temperature for multiple paleo reference periods, along with CO2 and sea level. Additional paleo data-model comparisons are in Ch 3 (126.96.36.199, 188.8.131.52.2, 7.5.6 for temp, 184.108.40.206 for multiple variables).
Ch 2 CCB 2.1 describes the PALEOCLIMATE REFERENCE PERIODS used in the report and points to other sections where the periods are discussed. PMIP4 and PMIP3 MODEL OUTPUT for four reference periods (temperature & precipitation) is available through the Interactive Atlas.
TS Box TS.2, along with Ch 220.127.116.11 (paleoclimate), highlight other NEW PALEO FINDINGS from several chapters, including the carbon and water cycles (Ch 5 & 8). The context for paleoclimate science is described in Ch 1.3.2.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS that focus on paleoclimate include, FAQ 1.3 “What can past climate teach us about the future?” and FAQ 2.1 “Earth’s temperature has varied before. How is the current warming any different?”
The quickest way to navigate through all of the paleoclimate information is to click on the links below which will take you straight to the relevant section in each chapter. Note that each time you click a link, the relevant chapter (size 6-9mb) will open in a new window, although this may not work in some browsers working on older operating systems (Safari) and/or with certain security settings.
The full report is 130mb (smallest version), but if you want a reduced-size copy of the "AR6 Climate Change 2021: The physical science basis" that contains only the chapters with palaeoclimate information (that is, without chapters 6 and 10), it can be downloaded by clicking on the link here (size 66.4mb).
Summary for Policy Makers
Figure SPM.1 History of global temperature change and causes of recent warming.
SPM A.2.2 Global surface temperature has increased faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period in at least the last 2000 years..
SPM A.4.4 The equilibrium climate sensitivity.. AR6 2.5-4°C compared to AR5 1.5-4.5°C
SPM B.1.1 Compared to 1850-1900, global surface temperature averaged over 2081-2100 is very likely to be..
SPM B.5.1 Past GHG emissions since 1750 have committed the global ocean to future warming..
SPM B.5.4 In the longer term, sea level rise is committed to rise for centuries to millenia..
SPM C.3.4 The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation is very likely to weaken over the 21st Century..
SPM C.3.5 Unpredictable and rare natural events not related to human influence on climate may lead to low likelihood, high impact outcomes..
Figure TS.1 Changes in atmospheric CO2 and global surface temperature (relative to 1850-1900) from the deep past to the next 300 years
Box TS.2 Paleoclimate
Box TS.2 Figure 1 Paleoclimate and recent reference periods, with selected key indicators
Box TS.2 Figure 2 Global surface temperature as estimated from proxy records (reconstructed) and climate 50 models (simulated).
Cross Section Box TS.1 Global surface Temperature Change
Cross Section Box TS.1, Figure 1 Earth’s surface temperature history and future with key findings annotated 52 within each panel
TS.2.2 Changes in the Drivers of the Climate System
TS.2.2, Figure TS.9 Changes in well-mixed greenhouse gas (WMGHG) concentrations and Effective Radiative Forcing over the past 3.5 million years
Box TS.4 Sea Level
Box TS.4, Figure 1 Global mean sea level change on different time scales and under different scenarios
TS.3.2.1 Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity, Transient Climate Response, and Transient Climate Response to Cumulative Carbon-dioxide Emissions
TS.3.2.1, Figure TS.16 Evolution of equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) assessments from the Charney Report through a succession of IPCC Assessment Reports to AR6
Chapter 1 Framing, context, and methods
1.3.2 Lines of evidence: paleoclimate
18.104.22.168 Major expansions of observational capacity (Paleoclimate)
FAQ 1.3 What can past climate teach us about the future?
FAQ 1.3, Figure1 Comparison of past, present and future. Schematic of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, global temperature, and global sea level during previous warm periods compared to the present
Chapter 2 Changing state of the climate system
Cross Chapter Box 2.1 Paleoclimate Reference Periods in the Assessment Report
Cross Chapter Box 2.1, Figure 1 Global mean surface temperature (GMST) over the past 60 million years relative to 1850–1900 shown on three time scales
2.2 Changes in Climate Drivers
2.2.1 Solar and Orbital Forcing
Figure 2.2 Time series of solar and volcanic forcing for the past 2.5 kyr and since 1850
2.2.2 Volcanic Aerosol Forcing
2.2.3 Well-mixed Greenhouse Gases (WMGHGs)
22.214.171.124 CO2 during 450 Ma to 800 ka
Figure 2.3 The evolution of atmospheric CO2 through the last 450 million years
126.96.36.199 Glacial-interglacial WMGHG Fluctuations from 800 ka
Figure 2.4 Atmospheric WMGHG concentrations from ice cores
188.8.131.52 Summary of changes in WMGHGs
2.2.7 Land use and land cover
2.3 Changes in large-scale climate
2.3.1 Atmosphere and Earth's surface
184.108.40.206 Surface temperatures
220.127.116.11.1 Temperatures of the deep past (65 Ma to 8 ka)
18.104.22.168.2 Temperatures of the post-glacial period (past 7000 years)
Figure 2.11 Earth’s surface temperature history with key findings
Cross Chapter Box 2.3 New estimates of global warming to date and key implications
22.214.171.124 Global hydrological cycle
126.96.36.199.1 Paleo perspective of the global hydrological cycle
188.8.131.52.1 The Hadley and Walker circulations
184.108.40.206.2 Global monsoon changes
220.127.116.11.3 Extratropical jets, storm tracks, and blocking
18.104.22.168 Sea ice coverage and thickness
22.214.171.124.1 Arctic Sea Ice
126.96.36.199.2 Antarctic Sea Ice
188.8.131.52 Glacier mass
Figure 2.23 Glacier advance and annual mass change
184.108.40.206 Ice sheet mass and extent
220.127.116.11.1 Greenland Ice Sheet
18.104.22.168.2 Antarctic Ice Sheet
22.214.171.124 Terrestrial permafrost
126.96.36.199 Ocean temperature, heat content and thermal expansion
188.8.131.52 Ocean salinity
184.108.40.206 Sea level
Figure 2.28 Changes in global mean sea level
220.127.116.11 Ocean circulation
18.104.22.168.1 Atlantic Meridional Overturning circulation (AMOC)
22.214.171.124.2 Western boundary currents and inter-basin exchanges
126.96.36.199 Ocean pH
Figure 2.29 Low latitude surface ocean pH over the last 65 million years
188.8.131.52 Ocean deoxygenation
184.108.40.206 Terrestrial biosphere
220.127.116.11.2 Terrestrial ecosystems
2.3.5 Synthesis of evidence for past changes
Figure 2.34 Selected large-scale climate indicators during paleoclimate and recent reference periods of the Cenozoic Era
Cross Chapter Box 2.4 The climate of the Pliocene (around 3 million years ago), when CO2 concentrations were last similar to those of present day
Cross Chapter Box 2.4, Figure 1 Climate indicators of the mid-Pliocene Warm Period (3.3–3.0 Ma) from models and proxy data
2.4 Changes in modes of variability
18.104.22.168 Northern Annular Mode (NAM) / North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO)
22.214.171.124 Southern Annular Mode (SAM)
Figure 2.35 Southern Annular Mode (SAM) reconstruction over the last millennium
2.4.2 El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)
Figure 2.36 Reconstructed and historical variance ratio of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO).
2.4.3 Indian Ocean Basin and dipole modes
2.4.4 Atlantic Meridional and Zonal Modes
2.4.5 Pacific Decadal Variability
2.4.6 Atlantic Multidecadal Variability
FAQ 2.1 The Earth’s temperature has varied before. How is the current warming any different?
FAQ 2.1, Figure 1 Evidence for the unusualness of recent warming
Chapter 3 Human influence on the climate system
3.3 Human Influence on the Atmosphere and Surface
126.96.36.199 Surface Temperature
Figure 3.2 Changes in surface temperature for different paleoclimates
188.8.131.52 Integrative Measures of Model Performance
Figure 3.44 Multivariate synopsis of paleoclimate model results compared to observational references
FAQ 3.2 What is Natural Variability and How has it Influenced Recent Climate Changes
FAQ 3.2, Figure 1 Annual, decadal and multi-decadal variations in average global surface temperature
Chapter 4 Future global climate: scenario-based projections and near-term information
Cross Chapter Box 4.1 The climate effects of volcanic eruption
Chapter 5 Global Carbon and other Biogeochemical Cycles and Feedbacks
5.1.2 Paleo Trends and Feedbacks
184.108.40.206 Cenozoic Proxy CO2 Record
Figure 5.3 Atmospheric CO2 concentrations and growth rates for the past 60 million years and projections to 2100.
220.127.116.11 Glacial-Interglacial Greenhouse Gases Records
Figure 5.4 Atmospheric concentrations of CO2, CH4 and N2O in air bubbles and clathrate crystals in ice cores (800,000 BCE to 1990 CE).
18.104.22.168 Holocene Changes
5.3.1 Paleoclimate Context
22.214.171.124 Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum
126.96.36.199 Last Deglacial Transition
BOX 5.1 Permafrost Carbon and Feedbacks to Climate: What does the paleo record tell us about how much emissions to expect?
5.4.7 Climate Feedbacks from CH4 and N2O
Chapter 7 The Earth’s energy budget, climate feedbacks, and climate sensitivity
188.8.131.52.2 Polar amplification from proxies and models during past climates associated with CO2 change
Figure 7.13 Polar amplification in paleo proxies and models of the early Eocene climatic optimum (EECO), the mid-Pliocene warm period (MPWP), and the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM)
184.108.40.206.2 Tropical Pacific temperature gradients in past high-CO2 climates
7.5.3 Estimates of ECS based on paleoclimate data
220.127.116.11 Estimates of ECS from the Last Glacial Maximum
18.104.22.168 Estimates of ECS from glacial-interglacial cycles
22.214.171.124 Estimates of ECS from warm periods of the pre-Quaternary
126.96.36.199 Synthesis of ECS based on paleo radiative forcing and temperature
7.5.6 Considerations on the ECS and TCR in global climate models and their role in the assessment
Figure 7.19 Global mean temperature anomaly in models and observations from 5 time periods
Chapter 8: Water cycle changes
188.8.131.52.3 West African Monsoon
184.108.40.206.4 North American Monsoon
220.127.116.11.5 South American Monsoon
18.104.22.168.6 Australian and Maritime Continent Monsoon
8.6.1 Abrupt water cycle responses to a collapse of Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation
Figure 8.27 Model simulation of precipitation response to the Younger Dryas event and under doubling of 1990 CO2 levels
22.214.171.124 Greening of the Sahara and the Sahel
Chapter 9: Ocean, cryosphere and sea level change
126.96.36.199 Ocean Heat Content and Heat Transport
Figure 9.9 Long-term trends of ocean heat content and surface temperature
188.8.131.52 Southern Ocean
184.108.40.206 Arctic Sea-Ice Coverage
220.127.116.11 Antarctic sea-ice coverage
18.104.22.168 Observed and reconstructed glacier extent and mass changes – Drivers of glacier change
9.6.2 Paleo context of global and regional sea-level change
22.214.171.124 Paleo context of global and regional sea-level change
Chapter 11: Weather and climate extreme events in a changing climate