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Disentangling Climatic And Human Induced Changes In The Recent Past

1367 words - 6 pages

This essay tackles one of the crucial challenges facings palaeo-scientists today, i.e. to what extent does human or natural forcings have in environmental change in the Holocene, and how accurately can they be detected and attributed? According to Oldfield and Dearing (2003), climatic and human induced changes are difficult to disentangle from one another, and this essay aims to explore why. At this point, it is important to define and outline the parameters of the essay. A Holocene perspective is adopted in this essay, which will include a discussion on the Anthropocene. This essay also aims to explore different aspects of the environment i.e. terrestrial, atmospheric and aquatic realms, ...view middle of the document...

, 2011). Thereafter, about six thousand years ago agriculture, the clearance of forests for expansion and irrigation moved towards the North East (Zalasiewicz et al., 2011). This is clear in the preserved fossil pollen record. However, not so clear is the notion of deforestation leading to elevated CO₂ concentrations in the atmosphere preceding the Industrial Revolution (Zalasiewicz et al., 2011). Comparisons here cannot be made as the magnitude and exact causes cannot be confirmed. According to Steffen et al. (2007), research points to widespread human impact on the environment primarily through predation, modification of the land and the use of fire; dispelling the perception that pre-agricultural humans lived in harmony with their environment. Having said that, humans have been modifying the environment from the time of Homo habilis (Zalasiewics et al., 2011) and even though anthropogenic signals may have been clearly detected and attributed to anthropogenic forcing at all scales, Steffen et al. (2007) purports that humans in pre-industrial times, unlike modern humans did not possess the technology or the organisational capacity to match the domineering force of nature that was apparent in the early to mid-Holocene period.

Zolitschka et al. (2003) adds that climatic influences may have been present for e.g. immediately following the Holocene climatic optimum, or in the course of the Little Ice Age (LIA) period. However, the transition where humans had a more heavy impact may mask the effect influence of climate making the signal invisible or negligible in comparison to the one left by humans in archival records for those periods. In agreement is Dearing (2006) who states that the transition of the environment from one of nature domination became one of human domination, which had profound impacts on the environment. Zolitschka et al. (2003) provides an example of clear human detection and attribution with land use and deforestation - in central Europe during the mid-Holocene climatic optimum, the region was vegetated with forest where changes in vegetation are picked up through proxies and archaeological artefacts (Zolitschka et al., 2003). An interesting point is made by Battarbee and Binney (2008) who also alludes that most of the unambiguous clear sources of evidence for past human activities are derive from Europe, yet Africa is the cradle of humankind and where people are most unlikely to adapt and cope with human and climate change impacts. In Europe, agricultural development, deforestation and pastoralism record with good taxonomic resolution of identification down to genera and species (Oldfield, 2008). In south-west Germany, in the Neolithic to early medieval period, detection of periodic agricultural development, deforestation and forest recovery/rejuvenation is clear. Zolitschka et al. (2003) emphasises that uncertainty arises when there is an overlap of climatic and human influence, and questions of coincidence arise. Efforts...

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