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Another type of proxy data, corals build their hard skeletons from calcium carbonate—a mineral extracted from seawater.
The carbonate contains isotopes of oxygen as well as trace metals that can be used to determine the temperature of the water in which the coral grew.
When properly evaluated, historical documents can yield both qualitative and quantitative information about past climate.
For example, scientists used historical grape harvest dates to reconstruct summer temperatures, between April and September, in Paris from 1370 to 1879.
Paleoclimatologists gather proxy data from natural recorders of climate variability such as tree rings, ice cores, fossil pollen, ocean sediments, corals and historical data.
By analyzing records taken from these and other proxy sources, scientists can extend our understanding of climate far beyond the instrumental record.
Our study describes the oldest, precisely dated, high-latitude eruption, and reveals the impact of an extended phase of volcanic forcing in the early-9th century.
Written historical sources from Europe and China corroborate our proposed tree ring-radiocarbon-ice core linkage but also point to combined effects of eruptions occurring during this period.
This can be done by "proxy methods," in which a variable which correlates with the variable of interest is measured, and then used to infer the value of the variable of interest.
Proxies can be combined to produce temperature reconstructions longer than the instrumental temperature record and can inform discussions of global warming.