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Looking back to the future

September 2008

How can the Quaternary Period help us relate to the present?

Looking back to the future

Interpreting our past climatic conditions helps us to understand the current situation and provides a tool with which to predict the future.

The key to understanding many current situations, including enhanced global warming and their future implications, is being able to compare the past trends with today.

Recent research has revealed that CO2 levels in the atmosphere now stand at 387 parts per million (ppm), up almost 40% since the Industrial Revolution and the highest for at least the last 650 000 years (The Guardian 13 May 2008).

The only way we can compare the present with the past is through research into the earth’s geological history. One particular area of study has been into the history of the British Isles from about 2million years ago up to the present: the Quaternary Period. Looking at ice core data has provided an insight into the past climatic conditions and the trends of the Quaternary Period.


  • AQA A2 Unit 3 “Weather and Climate and Associated Hazards”
  • Edexcel AS Unit 1 “Climate change and its causes”
  • OCR A2 Unit 3 “Climatic Hazards”
  • WJEC AS Unit G1 “Investigating climate change”
  • CIE AS Paper 1 “Atmosphere and weather”

It also directly supports the following pre-2008 teaching specifications:

  • AQA Spec A AS Module 1 “Climatic Hazards and Change”
  • AQA Spec B A2 Module 4 “Physical geography: seasonal, long term change, plate tectonics”
  • Edexcel Spec B A2 Unit 4 “Global Challenge, the Natural Environment”
  • OCR Spec B A2 Module 2691 “Issues: Climate and Society”

In the Members' Area:

  • Past environmental changes and implications for the future: Conference on the Quaternary Period of the British Isles, 8-10 January 2008
  • The Quaternary
  • Climate change: lessons from the past
  • A2 practise question

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