The PAGES-2k synthesis

Guest commentary by Darrell Kaufman (N. Arizona U.)

In a major step forward in proxy data synthesis, the PAst Global Changes (PAGES) 2k Consortium has just published a suite of continental scale reconstructions of temperature for the past two millennia in Nature Geoscience. More information about the study and its implications are available at the FAQ on the PAGES website and the datasets themselves are available at NOAA Paleoclimate.

The main conclusion of the study is that the most coherent feature in nearly all of the regional temperature reconstructions is a long-term cooling trend, which ended late in the 19th century, and which was followed by a warming trend in the 20th C. The 20th century in the reconstructions ranks as the warmest or nearly the warmest century in all regions except Antarctica. During the last 30-year period in the reconstructions (1971-2000 CE), the average reconstructed temperature among all of the regions was likely higher than anytime in at least ~1400 years. Interestingly, temperatures did not fluctuate uniformly among all regions at multi-decadal to centennial scales. For example, there were no globally synchronous multi-decadal warm or cold intervals that define a worldwide Medieval Warm Period or Little Ice Age. Cool 30-year periods between the years 830 and 1910 CE were particularly pronounced during times of weak solar activity and strong tropical volcanic eruptions and especially if both phenomena often occurred simultaneously.

Figure: Thirty-year mean relative temperatures for the seven PAGES 2k continental-scale regions arranged vertically from north to south.

The origin of the ‘PAGES 2k Network‘ and its activities can be found here and consists of nearly 80 individual collaborators. The Consortium’s collection of local expertise and proxy records was transformed into a synthesis by a smaller team of lead authors, but the large author list recognizes that the expertise of the wider team was essential in increasing the range of data used and interpreting it.

In addition to the background available at the FAQ, I think it is important to also highlight some aspects of the analytical procedures behind the study and the vital contributions of three young co-authors.

The benefit of the ‘regions-up’ approach embodied in the PAGES-2k consortium is that it made it easy to take advantage of local expertise and include a large amount of new data that would have been more difficult to assemble for a centralized global reconstruction. However, being decentralized, the groups in different regions opted for different methodologies for building their default reconstructions. While justifiable, this does raise a question about the impact different methodologies would have. To address this, the synthesis team (ably led by Nicholas McKay) applied three particular reconstruction methods to all of the regions, as well as looking at the basic area-averaged and weighted composites. He further analyzed the site-level records individually and without many of the assumptions that underlie the regional temperature reconstructions. These results show that the long-term cooling trend and recent warming are dominant features of the dataset however you analyze it. There is a sizable fraction of the records that do not conform to the continental averages, highlighting the spatial variability and/or the noise level in specific proxies.

One of the new procedures used to reconstruct temperature is an approach developed by Sami Hanhijärvi (U. Helsinki), which was also recently applied to the North Atlantic region. The method (PaiCo) relies on pairwise comparisons to arrive at a time series that integrates records with differing temporal resolutions and relaxes assumptions about the relation between the proxy series and temperature. Hanhijärvi applied this procedure to the proxy data from each of the continental-scale regions and found that reconstructions using different approaches are similar and generally support the primary conclusions of the study.

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