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Temperature trends over the past five centuries reconstructed from borehole temperatures


For an accurate assessment of the relative roles of natural variability and anthropogenic influence in the Earth's climate, reconstructions of past temperatures from the pre-industrial as well as the industrial period are essential. But instrumental records are typically available for no more than the past 150 years. Therefore reconstructions of pre-industrial climate rely principally on traditional climate proxy records1,2,3,4,5, each with particular strengths and limitations in representing climatic variability. Subsurface temperatures comprise an independent archive of past surface temperature changes that is complementary to both the instrumental record and the climate proxies. Here we use present-day temperatures in 616 boreholes from all continents except Antarctica to reconstruct century-long trends in temperatures over the past 500 years at global, hemispheric and continental scales. The results confirm the unusual warming of the twentieth century revealed by the instrumental record6, but suggest that the cumulative change over the past five centuries amounts to about 1 K, exceeding recent estimates from conventional climate proxies2,3,4,5. The strength of temperature reconstructions from boreholes lies in the detection of long-term trends, complementary to conventional climate proxies, but to obtain a complete picture of past warming, the differences between the approaches need to be investigated in detail.

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Figure 1: Location map of the boreholes where subsurface temperature measurements have been analysed to reconstruct a ground surface temperature (GST) history.
Figure 2: Global and hemispheric averages of GST history over the past five centuries.
Figure 3: Continental century-long GST changes.
Figure 4: Comparison of five-century Northern Hemisphere geothermal reconstructions with three multi-proxy reconstructions (refs 4, 3 and 1).


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We thank the International Heat Flow Commission and international colleagues for making available many of the borehole temperature profiles that we analysed. S.H. is originally from the Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences. This work was supported by the US National Science Foundation, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the International Geological Correlation Project 428.

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Correspondence to Henry N. Pollack.

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Huang, S., Pollack, H. & Shen, PY. Temperature trends over the past five centuries reconstructed from borehole temperatures. Nature 403, 756–758 (2000).

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