IF A MODEL
ever succeeds in describing the ancient climate, it will have passed
an important test. The model is tuned for the present day, but if
the physical laws that governed the planet were the same 55 million
years ago, the model should predict the paleoclimate when it's supplied
with correct descriptions of such aspects as the land elevation and
greenhouse-gas quantities. If those physical laws held true millions
of years ago, chances are good that they will in the future as well.
"There's a real advantage to testing predictions near the edge of
the envelope of understanding," says Wing. A model that can "predict"
the conditions of past eras as well as the present may also succeed
in predicting the climate of the future.
In his office at UC Santa Cruz, Wing waits for
spring weather. He looks forward to spending weeks in Wyoming collecting
new fossils that may add a few tiny pieces to the Paleocene climate
puzzle. Suddenly, Sloan rushes in to show him results of her latest
model study, involving clouds. By working together to decipher an
unfamiliar past, they hope to produce something even more powerful:
a model that can describe our future climate.