Recent global temperature reconstructions for the current interglacial period (the Holocene, beginning 11,700 years ago) have generated contrasting trends. This Review examines evidence from indicators and drivers of global change, as inferred from proxy records and simulated by climate models, to evaluate whether anthropogenic global warming was preceded by a long-term warming trend or by global cooling. Multimillennial-scale cooling before industrialization requires extra climate forcing and major climate feedbacks that are not well represented in most climate models at present. Conversely, global warming before industrialization challenges proxy-based reconstructions of past climate. The resolution of this conundrum has implications for contextualizing post-industrial warming and for understanding climate sensitivity to several forcings and their attendant feedbacks, including greenhouse gases. From a large variety of available evidence, we find support for a relatively mild millennial-scale global thermal maximum during the mid-Holocene, but more research is needed to firmly resolve the conundrum and to advance our understanding of slow-moving climate variability.
ASJC Scopus subject areas