Climate change

Spit on ancient lake floor seen from former island, Kenya, 1970
Spit on ancient lake floor seen from former island, Kenya, 1970

British scientists in a range of disciplines including archaeology, geology, glaciology, meteorology, oceanography and physics were investigating the variability of the Earth’s climate long before their research became of intense interest to politicians, policy makers and the public. Through detailed and often painstaking investigations into the growth-rings in ancient Irish oak trees, historical records, the fossilised remains of beetles, the shells found in cores extracted from the ocean bed and the gases trapped in ice core samples, scientists have been able to establish patterns of climate change and possible explanations for them. In the 1970s concerns about an impending ice age brought some of these scientists into contact with the media for the first time and exposed them to a very different environment than that of the laboratory or field.Concern over global warming from the late 1980s increased the public and political demand (and funding) for predictions of climate change made by computer ‘models’, but also led to greater critical scrutiny and controversy, forcing scientists to reflect on the proper relations and distinctions between the science and policy of climate change.