Articles | Volume 10, issue 1
Research article
10 Jan 2014
Research article |  | 10 Jan 2014

Mending Milankovitch's theory: obliquity amplification by surface feedbacks

C. R. Tabor, C. J. Poulsen, and D. Pollard

Abstract. Milankovitch's theory states that orbitally induced changes in high-latitude summer insolation dictate the waxing and waning of ice sheets. Accordingly, precession should dominate the ice-volume response because it most strongly modulates summer insolation. However, early Pleistocene (2.588–0.781 Ma) ice-volume proxy records vary almost exclusively at the frequency of the obliquity cycle. To explore this paradox, we use an Earth system model coupled with a dynamic ice sheet to separate the climate responses to idealized transient orbits of obliquity and precession that maximize insolation changes. Our results show that positive surface albedo feedbacks between high-latitude annual-mean insolation, ocean heat flux and sea-ice coverage, and boreal forest/tundra exchange enhance the ice-volume response to obliquity forcing relative to precession forcing. These surface feedbacks, in combination with modulation of the precession cycle power by eccentricity, help explain the dominantly 41 kyr cycles in global ice volume of the early Pleistocene.