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Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises:
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Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises is a 2002 report from the Ocean Studies Board, the Polar Research Board, and the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate of the National Research Council.

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Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises

Until the 1990s, the dominant view of climate change was that Earth's climate system has changed gradually in response to both natural and human-induced processes. Evidence pieced together over the last few decades, however, shows that climate has changed much more rapidly - sometimes abruptly - in the past and therefore could do so again in the future.

Abrupt climate change generally refers to a large shift in climate that persists for years or longer - such as marked changes in average temperature, or altered patterns of storms, floods, or droughts - over a widespread area such as an entire country or continent, that takes place so rapidly and unexpectedly that human or natural systems have difficulty adapting to it. In the context of past abrupt climate change, "rapidly" typically means on the order of a decade.

Severe droughts and other past abrupt climate changes have had demonstrable, adverse effects on human societies. While it is important not to be fatalistic about the threats posed by abrupt climate change, denying the likelihood or downplaying the relevance of past abrupt events could be costly. Increased knowledge is the best way to improve the effectiveness of response; research into the causes, patterns, and likelihood of abrupt climate change can help reduce vulnerabilites and increase our ability to adapt.

Ice is one of Earth's best record keepers, revealing features of the climate when the ice was deposited. These deep ice cores from Greenland are stored in the main archive of the National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver.

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