Long Term Climate Records from Polar Ice
Author: Stauffer B.
Source: Space Science Reviews, Volume 94, Numbers 1-2, November 2000 , pp. 321-336(16)
One of the great challenges in climate research is to investigate the principal mechanisms that control global climatic changes and an effective way to learn more about it, is the reconstruction of past climate changes. The most important sources of information about such changes and the associated composition of the atmosphere are the two large ice caps of Greenland and Antarctica. Analysis of ice cores is the most powerful means we have to determine how climate has changed over the last few climatic cycles, and to relate this to changes in atmospheric composition, in particular to concentrations of the principal greenhouse gases CO_2, CH_4 and N_2O (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide).
Transitions from cold ice age climates to warmer interstadials have always been accompanied by an increase of the atmospheric concentration of the three principal greenhouse gases. This increase has been, at least for CO_2, vital for the ending of glacial epochs. A highly simplified course of events for the past four transitions would then be as follows: first, changing orbital parameters initiated the end of the glacial epoch; second, an increase in greenhouse gases then amplified the weak orbital signal; third, in the second half of the transition, warming was further amplified by decreasing albedo, caused by melting of the large ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere going parallel with a change of the ocean circulation.
The isotopic records of Greenland ice cores show evidence for fast and drastic climatic changes during the last glacial epoch. Possible causes and mechanisms of such changes and their significance as global climatic events are discussed here. Ice core results also enable the reaction of the environment to past global changes to be investigated.
It will also be discussed how reliable stable isotope records are as a local temperature proxy and how representative paleoclimatic results from Greenland and Antarctica are in relation to global climate.
Document Type: Regular paper
Publication date: 2000-11-01