Articles | Volume 10, issue 1
Clim. Past, 10, 41–50, 2014
Clim. Past, 10, 41–50, 2014

Research article 10 Jan 2014

Research article | 10 Jan 2014

Mending Milankovitch's theory: obliquity amplification by surface feedbacks

C. R. Tabor1, C. J. Poulsen1, and D. Pollard2 C. R. Tabor et al.
  • 1Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
  • 2Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA, USA

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.