Articles | Volume 12, issue 5
Research article
04 May 2016
Research article |  | 04 May 2016

Effects of melting ice sheets and orbital forcing on the early Holocene warming in the extratropical Northern Hemisphere

Yurui Zhang, Hans Renssen, and Heikki Seppä

Abstract. The early Holocene is marked by the final transition from the last deglaciation to the relatively warm Holocene. Proxy-based temperature reconstructions suggest a Northern Hemisphere warming, but also indicate important regional differences. Model studies have analyzed the influence of diminishing ice sheets and other forcings on the climate system during the Holocene. The climate response to forcings before 9 kyr BP (referred to hereafter as kyr), however, remains not fully comprehended. We therefore studied, by employing the LOVECLIM climate model, how orbital and ice-sheet forcings contributed to climate change and to these regional differences during the earliest part of the Holocene (11.5–7 kyr).

Our equilibrium experiment for 11.5 kyr suggests lower annual mean temperatures at the onset of the Holocene than in the preindustrial era with the exception of Alaska. The magnitude of this cool anomaly varied regionally, and these spatial patterns are broadly consistent with proxy-based reconstructions. Temperatures throughout the whole year in northern Canada and northwestern Europe for 11.5 kyr were 2–5 °C lower than those of the preindustrial era as the climate was strongly influenced by the cooling effect of the ice sheets, which was caused by enhanced surface albedo and ice-sheet orography. In contrast, temperatures in Alaska for all seasons for the same period were 0.5–3 °C higher than the control run, which were caused by a combination of orbital forcing and stronger southerly winds that advected warm air from the south in response to prevailing high air pressure over the Laurentide Ice Sheet (LIS).

The transient experiments indicate a highly inhomogeneous early Holocene temperature warming over different regions. The climate in Alaska was constantly cooling over the whole Holocene, whereas there was an overall fast early Holocene warming in northern Canada by more than 1 °C kyr−1 as a consequence of progressive LIS decay. Comparisons of simulated temperatures with proxy records illustrate uncertainties related to the reconstruction of ice-sheet melting, and such a kind of comparison has the potential to constrain the uncertainties in ice-sheet reconstruction. Overall, our results demonstrate the variability of the climate during the early Holocene, both in terms of spatial patterns and temporal evolution.

Short summary
We explore how forcings contributed to climate change during the early Holocene that marked the final transition to the warm and stable stage. Our results indicate that 1) temperature at the Holocene onset was lower than in the preindustrial over the northern extratropics with the exception in Alaska, and the magnitude of this cooling varies regionally as a response to varying climate forcings and diverse mechanisms, and 2) the rate of the early Holocene warming was also spatially heterogeneous.