The Medieval Warm Period, the Little Ice Age and simulated climatic variability
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- Hunt, B.G. Clim Dyn (2006) 27: 677. doi:10.1007/s00382-006-0153-5
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The CSIRO Mark 2 coupled global climatic model has been used to generate a 10,000-year simulation for ‘present’ climatic conditions. The model output has been analysed to identify sustained climatic fluctuations, such as those attributed to the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and the Little Ice Age (LIA). Since no external forcing was permitted during the model run all such fluctuations are attributed to naturally occurring climatic variability associated with the nonlinear processes inherent in the climatic system. Comparison of simulated climatic time series for different geographical locations highlighted the lack of synchronicity between these series. The model was found to be able to simulate climatic extremes for selected observations for century timescales, as well as identifying the associated spatial characteristics. Other examples of time series simulated by the model for the USA and eastern Russia had similar characteristics to those attributed to the MWP and the LIA, but smaller amplitudes, and clearly defined spatial patterns. A search for the frequency of occurrence of specified surface temperature anomalies, defined via duration and mean value, revealed that these were primarily confined to polar regions and northern latitudes of Europe, Asia and North America. Over the majority of the oceans and southern hemisphere such climatic fluctuations could not be sustained, for reasons explained in the paper. Similarly, sustained sea–ice anomalies were mainly confined to the northern hemisphere. An examination of mechanisms associated with the sustained climatic fluctuations failed to identify a role for the North Atlantic Oscillation, the El Niño-Southern Oscillation or the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. It was therefore concluded that these fluctuations were generated by stochastic processes intrinsic to the nonlinear climatic system. While a number of characteristics of the MWP and the LIA could have been partially caused by natural processes within the climatic system, the inability of the model to reproduce the observed hemispheric mean temperature anomalies associated with these events indicates that external forcing must have been involved. Essentially the unforced climatic system is unable to sustain the generation of long-term climatic anomalies.