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Concept: Interglacial


Surface temperature reconstructions of the past 1500 years suggest that recent warming is unprecedented in that time. Here we provide a broader perspective by reconstructing regional and global temperature anomalies for the past 11,300 years from 73 globally distributed records. Early Holocene (10,000 to 5000 years ago) warmth is followed by ~0.7°C cooling through the middle to late Holocene (<5000 years ago), culminating in the coolest temperatures of the Holocene during the Little Ice Age, about 200 years ago. This cooling is largely associated with ~2°C change in the North Atlantic. Current global temperatures of the past decade have not yet exceeded peak interglacial values but are warmer than during ~75% of the Holocene temperature history. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change model projections for 2100 exceed the full distribution of Holocene temperature under all plausible greenhouse gas emission scenarios.

Concepts: Climate, Temperature, Climate change, Solar variation, Greenhouse gas, Holocene, Global warming, Interglacial


During ice-age cycles, continental ice volume kept pace with slow, multi-millennial scale, changes in climate forcing. Today, rapid greenhouse gas (GHG) increases have outpaced ice-volume responses, likely committing us to > 9 m of long-term sea-level rise (SLR). We portray a context of naturally precedented SLR from geological evidence, for comparison with historical observations and future projections. This context supports SLR of up to 0.9 (1.8) m by 2100 and 2.7 (5.0) m by 2200, relative to 2000, at 68% (95%) probability. Historical SLR observations and glaciological assessments track the upper 68% limit. Hence, modern change is rapid by past interglacial standards but within the range of ‘normal’ processes. The upper 95% limit offers a useful low probability/high risk value. Exceedance would require conditions without natural interglacial precedents, such as catastrophic ice-sheet collapse, or activation of major East Antarctic mass loss at sustained CO2 levels above 1000 ppmv.

Concepts: Sea level, Oceanography, Climate change, Natural gas, Radiative forcing, Greenhouse gas, Ice age, Interglacial


Cooling during most of the past two millennia has been widely recognized and has been inferred to be the dominant global temperature trend of the past 11,700 years (the Holocene epoch). However, long-term cooling has been difficult to reconcile with global forcing, and climate models consistently simulate long-term warming. The divergence between simulations and reconstructions emerges primarily for northern mid-latitudes, for which pronounced cooling has been inferred from marine and coastal records using multiple approaches. Here we show that temperatures reconstructed from sub-fossil pollen from 642 sites across North America and Europe closely match simulations, and that long-term warming, not cooling, defined the Holocene until around 2,000 years ago. The reconstructions indicate that evidence of long-term cooling was limited to North Atlantic records. Early Holocene temperatures on the continents were more than two degrees Celsius below those of the past two millennia, consistent with the simulated effects of remnant ice sheets in the climate model Community Climate System Model 3 (CCSM3). CCSM3 simulates increases in ‘growing degree days’-a measure of the accumulated warmth above five degrees Celsius per year-of more than 300 kelvin days over the Holocene, consistent with inferences from the pollen data. It also simulates a decrease in mean summer temperatures of more than two degrees Celsius, which correlates with reconstructed marine trends and highlights the potential importance of the different subseasonal sensitivities of the records. Despite the differing trends, pollen- and marine-based reconstructions are correlated at millennial-to-centennial scales, probably in response to ice-sheet and meltwater dynamics, and to stochastic dynamics similar to the temperature variations produced by CCSM3. Although our results depend on a single source of palaeoclimatic data (pollen) and a single climate-model simulation, they reinforce the notion that climate models can adequately simulate climates for periods other than the present-day. They also demonstrate that amplified warming in recent decades increased temperatures above the mean of any century during the past 11,000 years.

Concepts: Climate, Temperature, Climate change, Simulation, Absolute zero, Climate model, Interglacial, Global climate model


Understanding the population dynamics of megafauna that inhabited the mammoth steppe provides insights into the causes of extinctions during both the terminal Pleistocene and today. Our study area is Alaska’s North Slope, a place where humans were rare when these extinctions occurred. After developing a statistical approach to remove the age artifacts caused by radiocarbon calibration from a large series of dated megafaunal bones, we compare the temporal patterns of bone abundance with climate records. Megafaunal abundance tracked ice age climate, peaking during transitions from cold to warm periods. These results suggest that a defining characteristic of the mammoth steppe was its temporal instability and imply that regional extinctions followed by population reestablishment from distant refugia were characteristic features of ice-age biogeography at high latitudes. It follows that long-distance dispersal was crucial for the long-term persistence of megafaunal species living in the Arctic. Such dispersal was only possible when their rapidly shifting range lands were geographically interconnected. The end of the last ice age was fatally unique because the geographic ranges of arctic megafauna became permanently fragmented after stable, interglacial climate engendered the spread of peatlands at the same time that rising sea level severed former dispersal routes.

Concepts: Earth, Extinction, Arctic Ocean, Pleistocene, Ice age, Biogeography, Megafauna, Interglacial


Layered ice deposits at the poles of Mars record a detailed history of accumulation and erosion related to climate processes. Radar investigations measure these layers and provide evidence for climate changes such as ice advance and retreat. We present a detailed analysis of observational data showing that ~87,000 cubic kilometers of ice have accumulated at the poles since the end of the last ice age ~370,000 years ago; this volume is equivalent to a global layer of ~60 centimeters. The majority of the material accumulated at the north pole. These results provide both a means to understand the accumulation history of the polar deposits as related to orbital Milankovitch cycles and constraints for better determination of Mars' past and future climates.

Concepts: Earth, Layer, Arctic Ocean, Poles, North Pole, Latitude, Interglacial, Milankovitch cycles


Understanding natural climate variability is essential for assessments of climate change. This is reflected in the scaling properties of climate records. The scaling exponents of the interglacial and the glacial climates are fundamentally different. The Holocene record is monofractal, with a scaling exponent H∼0.7. On the contrary, the glacial record is multifractal, with a significantly higher scaling exponent H∼1.2, indicating a longer persistence time and stronger nonlinearities in the glacial climate. The glacial climate is dominated by the strong multi-millennial Dansgaard-Oeschger (DO) events influencing the long-time correlation. However, by separately analysing the last glacial maximum lacking DO events, here we find the same scaling for that period as for the full glacial period. The unbroken scaling thus indicates that the DO events are part of the natural variability and not externally triggered. At glacial time scales, there is a scale break to a trivial scaling, contrasting the DO events from the similarly saw-tooth-shaped glacial cycles.

Concepts: Climate, Climate change, Holocene, Interglacial


Global climate fluctuations have significantly influenced the distribution and abundance of biodiversity [1]. During unfavorable glacial periods, many species experienced range contraction and fragmentation, expanding again during interglacials [2-4]. An understanding of the evolutionary consequences of both historical and ongoing climate changes requires knowledge of the temporal dynamics of population numbers during such climate cycles. Variation in abundance should have left clear signatures in the patterns of intraspecific genetic variation in extant species, from which historical effective population sizes (Ne) can be estimated [3]. We analyzed whole-genome sequences of 38 avian species in a pairwise sequentially Markovian coalescent (PSMC, [5]) framework to quantitatively reveal changes in Ne from approximately 10 million to 10 thousand years ago. Significant fluctuations in Ne over time were evident for most species. The most pronounced pattern observed in many species was a severe reduction in Ne coinciding with the beginning of the last glacial period (LGP). Among species, Ne varied by at least three orders of magnitude, exceeding 1 million in the most abundant species. Several species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species showed long-term reduction in population size, predating recent declines. We conclude that cycles of population expansions and contractions have been a common feature of many bird species during the Quaternary period, likely coinciding with climate cycles. Population size reduction should have increased the risk of extinction but may also have promoted speciation. Species that have experienced long-term declines may be especially vulnerable to recent anthropogenic threats.

Concepts: Climate change, Endangered species, Extinction, Pleistocene, Ice age, Glacial period, Interglacial, IUCN Red List


The causes of the recent increase in Antarctic sea ice extent, characterised by large regional contrasts and decadal variations, remain unclear. In the Ross Sea, where such a sea ice increase is reported, 50% of the sea ice is produced within wind-sustained latent-heat polynyas. Combining information from marine diatom records and sea salt sodium and water isotope ice core records, we here document contrasting patterns in sea ice variations between coastal and open sea areas in Western Ross Sea over the current interglacial period. Since about 3600 years before present, an increase in the efficiency of regional latent-heat polynyas resulted in more coastal sea ice, while sea ice extent decreased overall. These past changes coincide with remarkable optima or minima in the abundances of penguins, silverfish and seal remains, confirming the high sensitivity of marine ecosystems to environmental and especially coastal sea ice conditions.

Concepts: Climate, Antarctica, Holocene, Ice core, Glaciology, Interglacial, Southern Ocean, Polynya


Suborbital-scale climate variations, possibly caused by solar activity, are observed in the Holocene and last-glacial climates. Recently published bicentennial-resolution paleoceanic environmental records reveal millennial-scale high-amplitude oscillations postdating the last geomagnetic reversal in the Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 19 interglacial. These oscillations, together with decoupling of post-reversal warming from maximum sea-level highstand in mid-latitudes, are key features for understanding the climate system of MIS 19 and the following Middle Pleistocene. It is unclear whether the oscillations are synchronous, or have the same driver as Holocene cycles. Here we present a high resolution record of western North Pacific submarine anoxia and sea surface bioproductivity from the Chiba Section, central Japan. The record reveals many oxic events in MIS 19, coincident with cold intervals, or with combined cold and sea-level fall events. This allows detailed correlations with paleoceanic records from the mid-latitude North Atlantic and Osaka Bay, southwest Japan. We find that the millennial-scale oscillations are synchronous between East and West hemispheres. In addition, during the two warmest intervals, bioproductivity follows the same pattern of change modulated by bicentennial cycles that are possibly related to solar activity.

Concepts: Earth, Climate, Weather, Climate change, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Northern Hemisphere, Interglacial


A recent temperature reconstruction of global annual temperature shows Early Holocene warmth followed by a cooling trend through the Middle to Late Holocene [Marcott SA, et al., 2013, Science 339(6124):1198-1201]. This global cooling is puzzling because it is opposite from the expected and simulated global warming trend due to the retreating ice sheets and rising atmospheric greenhouse gases. Our critical reexamination of this contradiction between the reconstructed cooling and the simulated warming points to potentially significant biases in both the seasonality of the proxy reconstruction and the climate sensitivity of current climate models.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Earth, Climate, Temperature, Climate change, Holocene, Global warming, Interglacial