Articles | Volume 11, issue 3
Clim. Past, 11, 571–586, 2015
Clim. Past, 11, 571–586, 2015

Research article 27 Mar 2015

Research article | 27 Mar 2015

The impact of Sahara desertification on Arctic cooling during the Holocene

F. J. Davies1, H. Renssen1, M. Blaschek1, and F. Muschitiello2,3 F. J. Davies et al.
  • 1Department of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, 1081HV Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  • 2Bolin Centre for Climate Research, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
  • 3Department of Geological Sciences, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden

Abstract. Since the start of the Holocene, temperatures in the Arctic have steadily declined. This has been accredited to the orbitally forced decrease in summer insolation reconstructed over the same period. However, here we present climate modelling results from an Earth model of intermediate complexity (EMIC) that indicate that 17–40% of the cooling in the Arctic, over the period 9–0 ka, was a direct result of the desertification that occurred in the Sahara after the termination of the African Humid Period. We have performed a suite of sensitivity experiments to analyse the impact of different combinations of forcings, including various vegetation covers in the Sahara. Our simulations suggest that over the course of the Holocene, a strong increase in surface albedo in the Sahara as a result of desertification led to a regional increase in surface pressure, a weakening of the trade winds, the westerlies and the polar easterlies, which in turn reduced the meridional heat transported by the atmosphere to the Arctic. We conclude that during interglacials, the climate of the Northern Hemisphere is sensitive to changes in Sahara vegetation type.