Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Greenland ice may exaggerate magnitude of 13,000-year-old deep freeze

Date:
June 25, 2012
Source:
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Summary:
Ice samples pulled from nearly a mile below the surface of Greenland glaciers have long served as a historical thermometer, adding temperature data to studies of the local conditions up to the Northern Hemisphere’s climate. But the method — comparing the ratio of oxygen isotopes buried as snow fell over millennia — may not be such a straightforward indicator of air temperature.

Ice samples pulled from nearly a mile below the surface of Greenland glaciers have long served as a historical thermometer, adding temperature data to studies of the local conditions up to the Northern Hemisphere's climate.

But the method -- comparing the ratio of oxygen isotopes buried as snow fell over millennia -- may not be such a straightforward indicator of air temperature.

"We don't believe the ice cores can be interpreted purely as a signal of temperature," says Anders Carlson, a University of Wisconsin-Madison geosciences professor. "You have to consider where the precipitation that formed the ice came from."

According to a study published June 25 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Greenland ice core drifts notably from other records of Northern Hemisphere temperatures during the Younger Dryas, a period beginning nearly 13,000 years ago of cooling so abrupt it's believed to be unmatched since.

Such periods of speedy cooling and warming are of special interest to climate scientists, who are teasing out the mechanisms of high-speed change to better understand and predict the changes occurring in our own time.

In the case of the Younger Dryas, average temperatures -- based on the Greenland ice -- plummeted as much as 15 degrees Celsius in a few centuries, and then shot back up nearly as much (over just decades) about 1,000 years later.

"In terms of temperature during the Younger Dryas, the only thing that looks like Greenland ice cores are Greenland ice cores," Carlson says. "They are supposed to be iconic for the Northern Hemisphere, but we have four other records that do not agree with the Greenland ice cores for that time. That abrupt cooling is there, just not to the same degree."

Working with UW-Madison climatologist Zhengyu Liu, collaborators at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and others, Carlson found their computer climate model breaking down on the Younger Dryas.

While it could reliably recreate temperatures in the Oldest Dryas -- a similar cooling period about 18,000 years ago -- they just couldn't find a lever in the model that would simulate a Younger Dryas that matched the Greenland ice cores.

"You can totally turn off ocean circulation, have Arctic sea ice advance all the way across the North Atlantic, and you still will have a warmer climate during the Younger Dryas than the Oldest Dryas because of the carbon dioxide," Carlson says.

By the time the Younger Dryas rolled around, there was more carbon dioxide in the air -- about 50 parts per million more. The warming effects of that much CO2 overwhelmed the rest of the conditions that make the Oldest and Younger Dryas so alike, and demonstrates a heightened sensitivity for Arctic temperatures to rising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The researchers zeroed in on the Northern Hemisphere's temperature outlier, Greenland ice cores, and found that the conversion of oxygen isotope ratio to temperature typically used on the ice cores did not account for the sort of crash climate change occurring during the Younger Dryas. It assumes prevailing winds and jet streams and storm tracks are providing the moisture for Greenland precipitation from the Atlantic Ocean.

"The Laurentide ice sheet, which covered much of North America down into the northern United States, is getting smaller as the Younger Dryas approaches," Carlson says. "That's like taking out a mountain of ice three kilometers high. As that melts, it allows more Pacific Ocean moisture to cross the continent and hit the Greenland ice sheet." The two oceans have distinctly different ratios of oxygen isotopes, allowing for a different isotope ratio where the water falls as snow.

"We ran an oxygen isotope-enabled atmosphere model, so we could simulate what these ice cores are actually recording, and it can match the actual oxygen isotopes in the ice core even though the temperature doesn't cool as much," Carlson says. "That, to us, means the source of precipitation has changed in Greenland across the last deglatiation. And therefore that the strict interpretation of this iconic record as purely temperature of snowfall above this ice sheet is wrong."

By the study's findings, Greenland temperatures may not have cooled as significantly as climate headed into the Younger Dryas relative to the Oldest Dryas, because of the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide that had occurred since the Oldest Dryas.

"You can say at the end of the Younger Dryas it warmed 10, plus or minus five, degrees Celsius. But what happened on this pathway into the event, you can't see," Carlson says. It's a fresh reminder from an ancient ice core that climate science is full of nuance, according to Carlson.

"Abrupt climate changes have happened, but they come with complex shifts in the way climate inputs like moisture moved around," he says. "You can't take one difference and interpret it solely as changes in temperature, and that's what we're seeing here in the Greenland ice cores."

The National Science Foundation and Department of Energy funded the research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison. The original article was written by Chris Barncard. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Zhengyu Liu, Anders E. Carlson, Feng He, Esther C. Brady, Bette L. Otto-Bliesner, Bruce P. Briegleb, Mark Wehrenberg, Peter U. Clark, Shu Wu, Jun Cheng, Jiaxu Zhang, David Noone, and Jiang Zhu. Younger Dryas cooling and the Greenland climate response to CO2. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 25, 2012 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1202183109

Cite This Page:

University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Greenland ice may exaggerate magnitude of 13,000-year-old deep freeze." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 June 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120625162907.htm>.
University of Wisconsin-Madison. (2012, June 25). Greenland ice may exaggerate magnitude of 13,000-year-old deep freeze. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120625162907.htm
University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Greenland ice may exaggerate magnitude of 13,000-year-old deep freeze." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120625162907.htm (accessed April 17, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

The Great British Farmland Boom

The Great British Farmland Boom

Reuters - Business Video Online (Apr. 17, 2014) Britain's troubled Co-operative Group is preparing to cash in on nearly 18,000 acres of farmland in one of the biggest UK land sales in decades. As Ivor Bennett reports, the market timing couldn't be better, with farmland prices soaring over 270 percent in the last 10 years. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy

Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy

AP (Apr. 17, 2014) After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the industry fell under intense scrutiny. Now, small underground nuclear power plants are being considered as the possible future of the nuclear energy. (April 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Change of Diet Helps Crocodile Business

Change of Diet Helps Crocodile Business

Reuters - Business Video Online (Apr. 16, 2014) Crocodile farming has been a challenge in Zimbabwe in recent years do the economic collapse and the financial crisis. But as Ciara Sutton reports one of Europe's biggest suppliers of skins to the luxury market has come up with an unusual survival strategy - vegetarian food. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Mt. Everest Helped Scientists Research Diabetes

How Mt. Everest Helped Scientists Research Diabetes

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) British researchers were able to use Mount Everest's low altitudes to study insulin resistance. They hope to find ways to treat diabetes. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins