Research ArticleCLIMATOLOGY

Mid-Pleistocene transition in glacial cycles explained by declining CO2 and regolith removal

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Science Advances  03 Apr 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 4, eaav7337
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav7337


Variations in Earth’s orbit pace the glacial-interglacial cycles of the Quaternary, but the mechanisms that transform regional and seasonal variations in solar insolation into glacial-interglacial cycles are still elusive. Here, we present transient simulations of coevolution of climate, ice sheets, and carbon cycle over the past 3 million years. We show that a gradual lowering of atmospheric CO2 and regolith removal are essential to reproduce the evolution of climate variability over the Quaternary. The long-term CO2 decrease leads to the initiation of Northern Hemisphere glaciation and an increase in the amplitude of glacial-interglacial variations, while the combined effect of CO2 decline and regolith removal controls the timing of the transition from a 41,000- to 100,000-year world. Our results suggest that the current CO2 concentration is unprecedented over the past 3 million years and that global temperature never exceeded the preindustrial value by more than 2°C during the Quaternary.

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