A Theory of Abrupt Climate Changes: Their Genesis and Anatomy

Ou, Hsien Wang

We combine our ice-sheet and climate models to formulate a deductive theory of abrupt climate changes pertaining to Heinrich/Dansgaard–Oeschger (H/DO) cycles and the last deglaciation punctuated by the Younger Dryas (YD). Since they are all accompanied by ice-rafted debris, we posit their common origin in the calving of the ice sheet due to a thermal switch at its bed, which naturally endows abruptness to these climate signals of the millennial timescale characteristics of the ice-mass balance. To distinguish the H/DO cycles, we differentiate the thermal triggers by geothermalheat/surface-melt in the calving of inland/coastal ice, which provide their respective freshwater sources. Since surface-melt requires post-H warmth during the glacial, but is already operative in the Holocene, the DO cycles are encased within the H cycle during the glacial, but self-sustaining in the Holocene. They otherwise share the same time signature, thus resolving this seeming puzzle of commonality without invoking unknown climate forcing. The DO cycles transcend deglaciation to produce the observed sequence, but the calving-induced freshwater flux needs to be boosted by the rerouting of continental meltwater to cause YD. We discern a key process of an eddying ocean in its millennial adjustment toward maximum entropy production (MEP), which would melt the H-induced sea ice to cause an abrupt post-H warming followed by a gradual cooling that anchors the DO cycles to form the hierarchical Bond cycle. Since the modelled anatomies resemble the observed ones, our theory may provide a robust and unified account of abrupt climate changes.


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Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
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December 2, 2022