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A Model for Northern Hemisphere Continental Ice Sheet Variation

  • R.G. Johnson (a1) and B.T. McClure (a1)


The marine record shows that over the last 350 ka Northern Hemisphere ice sheet volumes have fluctuated widely and only on rare short occasions have they been reduced to the present interglacial state. The fluctuations are well synchronized with hemispheric average summer insolation variations of 20 ka periodicity caused by changing orbital parameters. The development of a model which explains the varied amplitudes of the fluctuations and is consistent with the geological record embodies the following arguments: The transition from an interglacial state like today's to a glacial state is initiated when a summer insolation deficit causes a southerly extension of the North Atlantic-Arctic pack ice to 60°N latitude. The extension alters the subpolar low pressure patterns and thus causes a southward diversion of the European Gulf Stream flow. It also produces an enhanced warm West Greenland current. This current causes open seas as far north as Baffin Bay which provides moisture for rapid northern Laurentide ice sheet growth. After several glacial fluctuations driven by insolation variations, the southern Laurentide ice front may reach an extreme extension. This diverts the westerlies and the Gulf Stream thus weakening a dominant subpolar North Atlantic gyre and consequently producing a prolonged cutoff of the West Greenland current and a reduction of high latitude glacial precipitation. The subsequent high insolation can then melt back the eastern pack ice and restore the northern European Gulf Stream. This warms the high latitudes for a time sufficient to melt the continental ice, thus causing the transition back to the interglacial state.

An analysis of the record in the context of model suggests that the threshold deficit in average summer insolation that is required to initiate major glacial growth is influenced by the cooling effect of the Greenland ice cap on the seas to the east. The threshold level under conditions like today's is found to lie between −7 and −17 ly/day relative to the present. This threshold will not be crossed for at least 54 millenia due to an interval of smaller orbital eccentricity. Probable melting of the Greenland ice cap about 30 ka AP would ensure the extension of the present interglacial beyond 120 ka AP.



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A Model for Northern Hemisphere Continental Ice Sheet Variation

  • R.G. Johnson (a1) and B.T. McClure (a1)


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