How and when to terminate the Pleistocene ice ages?
Friday, 18 December 2015: 11:05
2010 (Moscone West)
Climate change with wax and wane of large Northern Hemisphere ice sheet occurred in the past 800 thousand years characterized by 100 thousand year cycle with a large amplitude of sawtooth pattern, following a transition from a period of 40 thousand years cycle with small amplitude of ice sheet change at about 1 million years ago. Although the importance of insolation as the ultimate driver is now appreciated, the mechanism what determines timing and strength of terminations are far from clearly understood. Here we show, using comprehensive climate and ice-sheet models, that insolation and internal feedbacks between the climate, the ice sheets and the lithosphere–asthenosphere system explain the 100,000-year periodicity. The responses of equilibrium states of ice sheets to summer insolation show hysteresis, with the shape and position of the hysteresis loop playing a key part in determining the periodicities of glacial cycles. The hysteresis loop of the North American ice sheet is such that after inception of the ice sheet, its mass balance remains mostly positive through several precession cycles, whose amplitudes decrease towards an eccentricity minimum. The larger the ice sheet grows and extends towards lower latitudes, the smaller is the insolation required to make the mass balance negative. Therefore, once a large ice sheet is established, a moderate increase in insolation is sufficient to trigger a negative mass balance, leading to an almost complete retreat of the ice sheet within several thousand years. We discuss further the mechanism which determine the timing of ice age terminations by examining the role of astronomical forcing and change of atmospheric carbon dioxide contents through sensitivity experiments and comparison of several ice age cycles with different settings of astronomical forcings.