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A noodle, hockey stick, and spaghetti plate: a perspective on high‐resolution paleoclimatology

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The high‐resolution reconstruction of hemispheric‐scale temperature variation over the past‐millennium benchmarks recent warming against more naturally driven climate episodes, such as the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period, thereby allowing assessment of the relative efficacies of natural and anthropogenic forcing factors. Icons of past temperature variability, as featured in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports over nearly two decades, have changed from a schematic sketch in 1990, to a seemingly well‐solved story in 2001, to more explicit recognition of significant uncertainties in 2007. In this article, we detail the beginning of the movement to reconstruct large‐scale temperatures, highlight major steps forward, and present our views on what remains to be accomplished. Despite significant efforts and progress, the spatial representation of reconstructions is limited, and the interannual and centennial variation are poorly quantified. Research priorities to reduce reconstruction uncertainties and improve future projections, include (1) increasing the role of expert assessment in selecting and incorporating the highest quality proxy data in reconstructions (2) employing reconstruction ensemble methodology, and (3) further improvements of forcing series. We suggest that much of the sensitivity in the reconstructions, a topic that has dominated scientific debates, can be traced back to the input data. It is perhaps advisable to use fewer, but expert‐assessed proxy records to reduce errors in future reconstruction efforts. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Figure 1.

IPCC icons of temperatures over the past millennium. Sequence of the pre‐industrial to industrial temperatures as expressed in the 1990 (upper), 2001 (middle), and 2007 (lower) IPCC reports. Dashed lines represent mean temperatures at 1900 in the upper panel and for 1961–1990 in the middle and lower panels. The upper panel was graphically recreated, whereas the middle and lower panels are based upon data obtained at the NCDC webpage (http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/recons.html). Curves illustrate the evolution of the ‘consensus views’ for large‐scale temperature change in the IPCC reports. See text for details.

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