6

Paleoclimate Overview

SUMMARY

The task of understanding climate change and predicting future change would be complex enough if only natural forcing mechanisms were involved. It is significantly more daunting because of the introduction of anthropogenic forcing and even more so considering the limitations in available records. Earth history provides a unique opportunity to assess the temporal and spatial characteristics of climate variability prior to any anthropogenic forcing; assess the natural rates of change associated with the evolution of the Earth system to understand how physical and biospheric systems interact across multiple time- and space scales; define the nature of the sensitivity of the Earth' s climate and biosphere to a large number of forcing factors; examine the integrated climatic, chemical, and biological response of the Earth system to a variety of perturbations; and test the predictions of numerical models for conditions significantly different from the present day. In effect, the paleoclimate record provides a series of cases and lessons upon which our understanding of climate change can be constructed and tested.

The paleo perspective has provided some significant surprises concerning climate change, changes in atmospheric chemistry, and the response of natural systems to climate change. The most recent dramatic new discovery is the verification that rapid and massive reorganizations in the ocean-atmosphere system—rapid climate change events—have occurred at frequent intervals throughout at least the last glacial cycle (the past ~100,000 years). The largest of these events are characterized by changes in climate that are close to the order of glacial/interglacial cycles. Perhaps most surprising is the demonstration that these rapid climate change events turn on and off in decades or less and may last centuries to millennia. Furthermore, these events are globally distributed and



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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade 6 Paleoclimate Overview SUMMARY The task of understanding climate change and predicting future change would be complex enough if only natural forcing mechanisms were involved. It is significantly more daunting because of the introduction of anthropogenic forcing and even more so considering the limitations in available records. Earth history provides a unique opportunity to assess the temporal and spatial characteristics of climate variability prior to any anthropogenic forcing; assess the natural rates of change associated with the evolution of the Earth system to understand how physical and biospheric systems interact across multiple time- and space scales; define the nature of the sensitivity of the Earth' s climate and biosphere to a large number of forcing factors; examine the integrated climatic, chemical, and biological response of the Earth system to a variety of perturbations; and test the predictions of numerical models for conditions significantly different from the present day. In effect, the paleoclimate record provides a series of cases and lessons upon which our understanding of climate change can be constructed and tested. The paleo perspective has provided some significant surprises concerning climate change, changes in atmospheric chemistry, and the response of natural systems to climate change. The most recent dramatic new discovery is the verification that rapid and massive reorganizations in the ocean-atmosphere system—rapid climate change events—have occurred at frequent intervals throughout at least the last glacial cycle (the past ~100,000 years). The largest of these events are characterized by changes in climate that are close to the order of glacial/interglacial cycles. Perhaps most surprising is the demonstration that these rapid climate change events turn on and off in decades or less and may last centuries to millennia. Furthermore, these events are globally distributed and

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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade found in a variety of paleoenvironments (ocean, atmosphere, and land). Several potential causes for these events have been proposed, but without a more detailed understanding of the relative phasing of these events from region to region, definitive causal mechanisms cannot be constructed. Of greatest consequence to humans is the fact that subdued versions of these events are documented during our current interglacial (the Holocene, which began ~11,500 years agoa). While subdued relative to earlier events, they are still sufficient to significantly perturb natural systems and still operate at rapid rates (years to decades). Thus, one of the most important tasks for paleoclimatologists is to improve our understanding of Holocene climate, for it is within the Holocene that the boundary conditions for modern natural climate variability can be identified and from which the relative importance of natural versus anthropogenic climate forcing can be assessed. Patterns in climate variability can be identified on the interannual to millennial scale. This finding is particularly encouraging since one of the end goals of climate change research is predictability. However, deconvolving predictable patterns at the regional scale and determining the temporal baseline from which predictability can be assessed will require more dense spacing of paleodata. Few instrumental records precede the era of anthropogenic involvement; thus, it is necessary to supplement and hindcast these data with paleoclimate records. The intended meaning of hindcast is to extend instrumental time series back prior to their onset date using proxy records. The assumption is made that a transfer function of some type links the instrumental and proxy records allowing this process. Fortunately, many paleodata series afford detailed views of pertinent climate indicators (e.g., temperature, precipitation, El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), monsoon). On the other hand, since there are no true analogs in the paleoclimate record for modern or future climate, it is essential to utilize both modern observational and paleoclimate records to solve this complex problem. New advances in paleoclimate research reaffirm the necessity to view climate change over varying timescales; utilize a variety of globally distributed paleoclimate records that monitor change throughout the Earth system; and focus attention on well-dated, highly resolved multivariate paleoclimate records. These paleodata are essential for understanding global environmental change and its potential impact on humans, assessing human influence on the global environment and for the evaluation of predictive climate models. The research imperatives for paleoclimate are to: Document how the global climate and the Earth's environment have changed in the past and determine the factors that caused these changes. Explore how this knowledge can be applied to understand future climate and environmental change. a Assumed format is calendar years unless specified as 14C years.

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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade Document how the activities of humans have affected the global environment and climate and determine how these effects can be differentiated from natural variability. Describe what constitutes the natural environment prior to human intervention. Explore the question of what the natural limits (e.g., in the frequency of events, trends, extremes) are of the global environment and determine how changes in the boundary conditions (e.g., greenhouse gases, ocean circulation, ice extent) for this natural environment are manifested. Document the important forcing factors (e.g., greenhouse gases, solar variability, ocean circulation, volcanic aerosols) that are and will control climate change on societal timescales (season to century). Determine what the causes were of the rapid climate change events and rapid transitions in climate state. INTRODUCTION Since ancient times humans have modified their local and regional environments, but only since the Industrial Revolution has human activity had a significant measured effect at the planetary scale. Human impact on the composition of the global atmosphere is now without question. Human disturbance of biogeochemical cycles may now be approaching a critical level. Over the past few decades concentrations of atmospheric gases (e.g., CO2, CH4, N2O) have been increasing dramatically and have moved into a range unprecedented for the past million years. This increase has produced serious concern regarding the heat balance of the global atmosphere. Greenhouse gases are, however, only part of the human problem. For example, sulfur gases and dusts can reinforce or counteract greenhouse gas effects on local to regional scales. While remarkable efforts are under way to resolve the history and significance of the human influences on climate, pollution, and resource depletion, our understanding of climate change is still hampered by a lack of knowledge of the processes that underlie natural climate variations. The importance of understanding natural climate variability has been clearly articulated in previous National Research Council (NRC) reports. In a 1975 report prepared by the U.S. Committee for the Global Atmospheric Research Program, documentation is provided for the presence of seasonal to millennial scales of natural climate variability and for regularities in climatic series. In the 1990 report the Committee on Global Change summarized several important contributions to the understanding of natural climate variability made by a variety of major scientific efforts that had emerged since the 1975 report. For example, the CLIMAP (Climate Mapping, Analysis, and Prediction) group produced the first comprehensive reconstructions of the Earth's climate during the last glacial maximum; the COHMAP (Cooperative Holocene Mapping Project) group extended paleoclimatic reconstructions to the post-glacial era and demonstrated the

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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade emergence of the African-Asian monsoon system; and the SPECMAP (Spectral Mapping Project) group verified the strong relationship between the Earth's orbitally induced cycles of insolation and major fluctuations in climate.1 Since the 1990 NRC report several important discoveries have been made that have focused even more attention on the paleoclimate record. The most dramatic of these new discoveries is the verification that rapid and massive reorganizations in the ocean-atmosphere system —rapid climate change events—have occurred at frequent intervals throughout at least the last glacial cycle (the past ~100,000 years). The largest of these events are characterized by changes in climate that are close to the order of glacial/interglacial cycles. Perhaps most surprising is the demonstration that these events initiate and terminate in decades or less and may last centuries to millennia. Of greatest consequence, however, is the fact that subdued versions of these events are documented during our current interglacial (the Holocene, which began ~11,500 years ago). Thus, these rapid climate change events have immense significance to our understanding of both natural climate variability and modern climate. While the causes of rapid climate change events and natural climate variability, in general, are still not fully understood, evidence continues to accumulate emphasizing the significance of a variety of climate processes, such as changes in thermohaline circulation of the world's oceans, Earth's orbitally induced (Milankovitch) cycles of insolation, solar variability, greenhouse gases, volcanic activity, and ice sheet dynamics. CASE STUDIES This report focuses on five case studies chosen to demonstrate the potential wealth of information available from the paleorecord. The first three are presented in specific time domains (the last glacial cycle to onset of the Holocene; the Holocene; the past 2,000 years of the Holocene). The last two focus on subject areas that draw on a wide range of Earth history—namely, climate-vegetation interactions and warm climates. The Last Glacial Cycle to the Onset of the Holocene (~11,500 years ago) Summary of Previous Work A variety of paleoclimate records demonstrate that the Earth's climate has varied significantly throughout the past 1 million years. This natural climate variability ranges from glacial to interglacial states, in approximately 100,000-year cycles that terminate as ~10,000-year-long interglacials, characterized by relatively ice free and warm conditions. 2 Knowledge of the low-frequency component of the Earth's climate variabil-

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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade FIGURE 6.1 Comparison of three high-latitude records from the southern hemisphere showing the overall good agreement between CO2 and temperature changes (inferred from δD). Taken from Crowley and North (1990). Data sources: the Vostok δD record (Jouzel et al., 1987) and the CO2 record (Barnola et al., 1987) are plotted according to the revised chronology of Petit et al. (1990).SOURCE: Crowley and North (1990). Courtesy of Oxford University Press. ity, resulting from changes in the Earth's orbital cycles, pioneered by the CLIMAP project and described by Imbrie et al. (1992, 1993), has been verified and further elucidated by the SPECMAP project. Orbitally induced variations in insolation at the Milankovitch periods (primarily 100,000, 41,000 and 23,000 years) explain much of the change in global ice volume throughout the late Pleistocene and have been identified in a variety of paleoclimate records (e.g., marine and ice cores and loess sequences). CO2 and CH4 figure prominently in climate change over the last glacial/interglacial cycle, as demonstrated by the close association between Vostok (Antarctica) ice core CO2 and temperature (see Figure 6.1).3 This dramatic demonstration of the long-term association between temperature and CO2 has had a profound effect on the implications of anthropogenically induced greenhouse gas warming. However, the fact that CO2 lags temperature at major climate transitions (e.g., the end of the last interglacial) suggests that the system response may be complex.

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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade New Developments The most dramatic recent contributions to our understanding of paleoclimate during the last glacial cycle have come in the millennial-scale range of climate variability. Unprecedented swings in the Earth's climate have now been recorded in two ice cores from central Greenland, instigating new higher-resolution investigations of land and marine paleoclimate records. In 1993 the Greenland Ice Sheet Project Two (GISP2) successfully completed drilling to the base of the Greenland ice sheet in central Greenland. In so doing, GISP2, along with its European companion project GRIP (Greenland Ice Core Program), developed the longest high-resolution continuous paleoenvironmental record (>250,000 years) available from the northern hemisphere. Based on the comparison of electrical conductivity and oxygen isotope series between the two cores,4 at least the upper 90 percent displays extremely similar if not absolutely equivalent records. The central Greenland ice cores provide a framework for other paleoclimate records because of their relatively precise dating. The current best estimate of the age at ~2,800 m is ~110,000 years, based on a combination of multiparameter annual layer counting combined with measurements of the d18O of atmospheric O2 calibrated with the Vostok ice core in Antarctica.5 Error estimates in the dating are quite remarkable, from 2 percent for 0 to 11,640 years ago to 10 percent for over 40,000 years.6 Agreement between the GISP2 and GRIP ice cores (separated by 30 km or ~10 ice thicknesses) over the record period of the past ~110,000 years provides strong support for the climatic origin of even the minor features of these records and implies that investigations of subtle environmental signals can be rigorously pursued. The climatic significance of the deeper part of these ice cores (>110,000 years in age) is a matter of considerable controversy. Without additional records, the evidence for rapid climate change in Greenland during the last interglacial remains equivocal. The millennial-scale events recorded in the upper 110,000 years of the two central Greenland ice cores are, however, unequivocally climate events. They represent large climate deviations (massive reorganizations of the ocean-atmosphere system) that occur over decades or less and during which ice-age temperatures in central Greenland may have been as much as 20°C colder than today (see Figure 6.2).7 These events have their greatest magnitude during the glacial portion of the record, prior to ~14,500 years ago), when large northern hemisphere ice sheets provided positive climate feedbacks.8 Examination of one of these events, the Younger Dryas (a near return to glacial conditions during the last deglaciation, previously identified in a variety of paleoclimate records), demonstrates the importance of conducting multiparameter high-resolution paleoclimate investigations on well-dated records. During this event lowered temperatures were accompanied by up to twofold and greater changes in snow accumulation, order-of-magnitude changes in the amount

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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade FIGURE 6.2 The central Greenland δ18O history for the most recent 40,000 years. The smooth curve results when this history is filtered to mimic the thermal averaging in the ice sheet. All temperature histories that give this same curve when filtered are indistinguishable to borehole thermometry. The right axis shows the calibrated temperature scale. SOURCE: Cuffey et al. (1995). Courtesy of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. of wind-blown dust and sea salt in the atmosphere, and large changes in methane concentration, with cold, dry, dusty, conditions correlated with low-methane (see Figure 6.3).9 Annually resolved sampling over early and late stages of the Younger Dryas indicates that this ~1,300-year duration event began and ended in less than 5 to 20 years.10 The identification of rapid climate change event style variations in the GRIP CH4 record11 (see Figure 6.4) prompted considerable interest in the identification of such events in other regions since the source areas for CH4 during the last glaciation may have been in the middle to lower latitudes. In addition, several rapid climate change events recorded in Greenland are in the isotopic temperature record of the Vostok ice core from central East Antarctica, although with apparently smaller amplitude than in Greenland (see Figure 6.5).12 Paleoclimate records from North Atlantic marine sediment cores also contain notable millennial-scale variability,13 although the exact timing of these events is less precisely known than for the Greenland ice cores. Several of the marine cores reveal evidence that the formation of NADW (North Atlantic deep water; warm, saline, nutrient-depleted deep return flow water), and thus the oce-

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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade FIGURE 6.3 Composite figure. Above: the Younger Dryas was an abrupt return to near-glacial conditions (about 7°C lower, decreased accumulation rate, decreased methane, increased atmospheric dust) that lasted approximately 1,300 years and punctuated the transition from glacial to interglacial climates. Figure modified from Alley et al. (1993), Grootes et al., (1993), and Brook et al. (1996). Right: This high-resolution calcium record from the GISP2 ice core indicates the relative amount of dust in the atmosphere over Greenland and thus documents other abrupt, frequent, and massive changes in climate that characterize the glacial portion of the ice core record. SOURCE: Adapted from Mayewski et al. (1994, 1997). Courtesy of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. anic thermohaline circulation, fluctuated dramatically in the past. 14 NADW diminished greatly during the last glaciation and was relatively strong during the interglacials. Recent studies confirm that NADW fluctuates on millennial timescales and correlates with sea surface and atmospheric temperatures.15 Changes in the flux of ice-rafted detritus, d18O of foraminifera shells, and the abundance of climate-sensitive foraminifera indicate that during the last glaciation the North Atlantic was punctuated by iceberg discharge events potentially produced in response to changes in ice sheet dynamics.16 The largest of these (Heinrich events) have a characteristic recurrence in the marine record on the order of 5,000 to 10,000 years. They are also associated with similar events of shorter-timescale variability described above (on the order of 1,000 to 3,000 years long, termed Dansgaard/Oeschger rapid climate change events) that correlate with the stadial/interstadial changes observed in ice core records from central Greenland (see Figure 6.6).17 Evidence for the presence of millennial-scale climate fluctuations has been

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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade FIGURE 6.4 Top: GRIP ice core values for methane. The thick line runs through the mean concentration (black dots), and the two accompanying thin lines correspond to the experimental uncertainty (2 sigma). Bottom: Mean δ18O record along 2.2-m sections of the core (Dansgaard et al., 1993; Johnsen et al., 1992). The significant climatic events are noted by name or suggested numbering (Dansgaard et al., 1993). The timescale applies to both records. The depth scale applies only to the CH4 curve (top) because of the difference in age between trapped air and ice at a given depth. SOURCE: Chappellaz et al. (1993). Courtesy of Macmillan Magazines Ltd.

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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade FIGURE 6.5 Greenland (GISP2) and Antarctic (Vostok) climate records covering the last glacial/interglacial cycle. Top: Plot shows the close correlation between GISP2 and Vostok δ18O of O2 in air in these ice cores. Bottom: Curves show close correlation between two proxies for temperature, δDice (Vostok) and δ18O (GISP2) in the ice. SOURCE: Adapted from Bender et al. (1994). Courtesy of Macmillan Magazines Ltd.

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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade FIGURE 6.6 Comparison of the δ18O record and age model for the GRIP ice core, Summit, Greenland (Dansgaard et al., 1993), with measurements of lithic concentrations and percentages of the planktonic foraminifera Neogloboquardrina pachyderma (left coiling), a proxy for surface water temperatures, in WM23-81 (Bond et al., 1993). That foraminifera today lives in waters <10°C and comprises about 95 percent of the fauna at summer temperatures of less than 5°C. Age model for the marine record is from Bond et al. (1992, 1993). Cycles between the Heinrich events are given letters to aid their description in the text. A good match exists between the lithic concentration cycles and the temperature cycles in the ice core; the match of the lithic cycles to the ocean surface temperatures, however, is much poorer. The GISP2 timescale derived from layer counting to 41,000 years is included for comparison with the GRIP timescale and the 14C timescale. The GISP2 timescale was transferred into the GRIP record at the sharp interstadial boundaries, which are precisely located in both ice core records (Dansgaard et al., 1993; Mayewski et al., 1994), and then ages were interpolated between these boundaries. The progressive difference in ages, reaching about 10 percent at 40,000 calendar years ago, is consistent with the error estimated for ice core dating. SOURCE: Bond and Lotti (1995). Courtesy of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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