, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 162-177

The hierarchical structure of glacial climatic oscillations: interactions between ice-sheet dynamics and climate

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Abstract

Abrupt climatic oscillations around the North Atlantic have been identified recently in Greenland ice cores as well as in North Atlantic marine sediment cores. The good correlation between the ‘Dansgaard-Oeschger events’ in the ice and the ‘Heinrich events’ in the ocean suggests that climate, in the North Atlantic region, underwent several massive reorganizations in the last glacial period. A characteristic feature of these events seems to be their hierarchical structure. Every 7 to 10-thousand years, when the temperature is close to its minimum, the ice-sheet undergoes a massive iceberg discharge. This Heinrich event is then followed by an abrupt warming, then by several other oscillations, each one lasting between one and two thousand years. These secondary oscillations do not have a clear signature in marine sediments but constitute most of the ‘Dansgaard-Oeschger events’ found in the ice. Here we use a simplified model coupling an ice-sheet and an ocean basin, in order to illustrate how the interactions between these two components can lead to such a hierarchical structure. The ice-sheet model exhibits internal oscillations composed of ice-sheet growing phases and basal ice melting phases that induce massive iceberg discharges. These massive fresh water inputs in the ocean stop for a moment the thermohaline circulation, enhancing the temperature contrast between low- and high-latitudes. Just after this event, the thermohaline circulation restarts and an abrupt warming of high-latitude regions is observed. For some parameter values, these warmer temperatures have in turn some influence on the ice-sheet, inducing secondary oscillations similar to those found in paleoclimatic records. Although the mechanism presented here may be too grossly simplified, it nevertheless underlines the potential importance of the coupling between ice-sheet dynamics and oceanic thermohaline circulation on the structure of the climatic records during the last glacial period.