Modulation of ice ages via precession and dust-albedo feedbacks

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Abstract

We present here a simple and novel proposal for the modulation and rhythm of ice-ages and interglacials during the late Pleistocene. While the standard Milankovitch-precession theory fails to explain the long intervals between interglacials, these can be accounted for by a novel forcing and feedback system involving CO2, dust and albedo. During the glacial period, the high albedo of the northern ice sheets drives down global temperatures and CO2concentrations, despite subsequent precessional forcing maxima. Over the following millennia more CO2is sequestered in the oceans and atmospheric concentrations eventually reach a critical minima of about 200 ppm, which combined with arid conditions, causes a die-back of temperate and boreal forests and grasslands, especially at high altitude. The ensuing soil erosion generates dust storms, resulting in increased dust deposition and lower albedo on the northern ice sheets. As northern hemisphere insolation increases during the next Milankovitch cycle, the dust-laden ice-sheets absorb considerably more insolation and undergo rapid melting, which forces the climate into an interglacial period. The proposed mechanism is simple, robust, and comprehensive in its scope, and its key elements are well supported by empirical evidence.

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Ellis, R., & Palmer, M. (2016). Modulation of ice ages via precession and dust-albedo feedbacks. Geoscience Frontiers, 7(6), 891–909. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gsf.2016.04.004

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