300
million years ago
24
°F

Paleoclimate

Paleoclimate Timeline graphic

No living being exists in a vacuum. Life and the planet Earth evolved together—meaning that the story of how our world grew lush with flora and alive with fauna is also the story of us. When we look back over a timescale of 400 million years, the changes we see today are put into stark relief. “The history of our planet has been marked by changes in temperature” as well as “the ever-throbbing drum of evolving organisms,” says Natural History Museum director Kirk Johnson. “But climate change is different.” We’ve been on Earth for just a drop of time in a 4.6-billion-year history, but our decisions have already reshaped the planet beyond recognition.

To understand our role in this story, we scour the Earth for clues to its past. Scientists from the Smithsonian and elsewhere have been working for decades to piece together the epic tale of the planet’s climate history, using proxies of temperature records ranging from miles-long ice cores filled with preserved gas bubbles to the remains of unicellular ocean-dwellers known as diatoms. The result: a more extensive and accurate understanding of Earth’s climate history than ever before, which was used to build this interactive temperature timeline stretching back 400 million years.

Travel through time, exploring key events in the evolution of life on Earth and peeks behind the scene at how scientists pieced together the puzzle. Scroll down to explore chunks of time going back 400 million years, witnessing the evolution of land plants, reptiles, mammals and our own unique species, Homo sapiens, in reverse. But remember, in the real world, our time machine only goes one way.

iceberg icon

Timeline Key

World Without Ice Caps


World With Ice Caps


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