Data obtained from a Greenland ice core by an international science team led by project leader Dorthe Dahl-Jensen of the Center for Ice and Climate at the Neils Bohr Institute of the University of Copenhagen, shows that two huge Northern Hemisphere temperature upswings prior to the close of the last ice age some 11,500 years ago were tied to fundamental shifts in atmospheric circulation.
According to the researchers, the first abrupt warming period beginning at 14,700 years ago lasted until about 12,900 years ago, when deep-freeze conditions returned for about 1,200 years before the onset of the second sharp warming event. The two events indicate a speed in the natural climate change process never before seen in ice cores, said White, director of University of Colorado's Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research.
The ice core showed the Northern Hemisphere briefly emerged from the last ice age some 14,700 years ago with a 22-degree-Fahrenheit spike in just 50 years, then plunged back into icy conditions before abruptly warming again about 11,700 years ago. Startlingly, the Greenland ice core evidence showed that a massive "reorganization" of atmospheric circulation in the Northern Hemisphere coincided with each temperature spurt, with each reorganization taking just one or two years, said the study authors.
The new findings are expected to help scientists improve existing computer models for predicting future climate change as increasing anthropogenic greenhouse gases in the atmosphere drive up Earth's temperatures globally.
The team used changes in dust levels and stable water isotopes in the annual ice layers of the two-mile-long Greenland ice core, which was hauled from the massive ice sheet between 1998 to 2004, to chart past temperature and precipitation swings.
"We have analyzed the transition from the last glacial period until our present warm interglacial period, and the climate shifts are happening suddenly, as if someone had pushed a button," said Dahl-Jenson.
"We are beginning to tease apart the sequence of abrupt climate change," said White, whose work was funded by the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs. "Since such rapid climate change would challenge even the most modern societies to successfully adapt, knowing how these massive events start and evolve is one of the most pressing climate questions we need to answer."
Both dramatic warming events were preceded by decreasing Greenland dust deposition, indicating higher tropical temperatures and significantly more rain falling on the deserts of Asia at the time, said White. The team believes the ancient tropical warming caused large, rapid atmospheric changes at the equator, the intensification of the Pacific monsoon, sea-ice loss in the north Atlantic Ocean and more atmospheric heat and moisture over Greenland and much of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere.
White likened the abrupt shift in the Northern Hemisphere circulation pattern to shifts in the North American jet stream as it steers storms around the continent.
"We know such events are in Earth's future, but we don't know when," said White. "One question is whether we can see the symptoms before big problems occur. Until we answer these questions, we are speeding blindly down a narrow road, hoping there are no curves ahead."
Posted by Jason McManus.
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Source Link: http://www.nbi.ku.dk/english/news/ice_cores_show_abrupt/
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