Heinrich layers are extensive deposits of coarse-grained sediment across the North Atlantic Ocean. Much of the material in these layers is sufficiently coarse that important transport by icebergs must have occurred. Each Heinrich layer is as much as 0.5 m thick near Hudson Strait, thinning to less than 1 cm on the east side of the Atlantic (Andrews and Tedesco, 1992; Grousset et al., 1993). The ice-rafted sediments are dominated by material with geochemical signatures indicating an origin in Hudson Bay, whereas sediments between and in the thin edges of Heinrich layers include more diverse sources (Gwiazda et al., 1996a,b). Sedimentation of thicker parts of Heinrich layers was much faster than that of surrounding sediments (McManus et al., 1998) and occurred in an anomalously cold and fresh surface ocean (Bond et al., 1993).
Heinrich events are correlated with greatly reduced North Atlantic deep water formation (Sarnthein et al., 1994) and climate anomalies similar to, but larger than, those of the cold phases of the non-Heinrich Dansgaard/ Oeschger oscillations (reviewed by Broecker, 1994; and Alley and Clark, 1999).
The panoply of abrupt climate change through the cooling into and warming out of the most recent global ice age and probably earlier ice ages has not been convincingly explained. However, as reviewed later, many hypotheses exist, and there is strong evidence of change in the fundamental mode of operation of parts of the coupled system of atmosphere, ocean, ice, land surface, and biosphere.
Temperatures similar to those of the most recent 10,000 years have been reached during previous interglacials, which have occurred approximately each 100,000 years over the last 700,000 years in response to features of earth’s orbit. Each of these interglacials was slightly different from the others, at least in part because the orbital parameters do not repeat exactly. The penultimate interglacial, about 125,000 years ago, is known by several names including the Eemian, Sangamonian, and marine isotope stage 5e (with the different terminologies originating in different disciplines or geographic regions and being broadly but not identically equivalent).
As the most recent near-equivalent of the current warm period, the Eemian is of obvious interest in learning what behavior is likely during warm times (van Kolfschoten and Gibbard, 2000). The orbital parameters for the Eemian produced somewhat more incoming solar radiation than