Articles | Volume 12, issue 9
Research article
26 Sep 2016
Research article |  | 26 Sep 2016

Greenland during the last interglacial: the relative importance of insolation and oceanic changes

Rasmus A. Pedersen, Peter L. Langen, and Bo M. Vinther

Abstract. Insolation changes during the Eemian (the last interglacial period, 129 000–116 000 years before present) resulted in warmer than present conditions in the Arctic region. The NEEM ice core record suggests warming of 8 ± 4 K in northwestern Greenland based on stable water isotopes. Here we use general circulation model experiments to investigate the causes of the Eemian warming in Greenland. Simulations of the atmospheric response to combinations of Eemian insolation and preindustrial oceanic conditions and vice versa are used to disentangle the impacts of the insolation change and the related changes in sea surface temperatures and sea ice conditions. The changed oceanic conditions cause warming throughout the year, prolonging the impact of the summertime insolation increase. Consequently, the oceanic conditions cause an annual mean warming of 2 K at the NEEM site, whereas the insolation alone causes an insignificant change. Taking the precipitation changes into account, however, the insolation and oceanic changes cause more comparable increases in the precipitation-weighted temperature, implying that both contributions are important for the ice core record at the NEEM site. The simulated Eemian precipitation-weighted warming of 2.4 K at the NEEM site is low compared to the ice core reconstruction, partially due to missing feedbacks related to ice sheet changes and an extensive sea ice cover. Surface mass balance calculations with an energy balance model further indicate that the combination of temperature and precipitation anomalies leads to potential mass loss in the north and southwestern parts of the ice sheet. The oceanic conditions favor increased accumulation in the southeast, while the insolation appears to be the dominant cause of the expected ice sheet reduction. Consequently, the Eemian is not a suitable analogue for future ice sheet changes.

Short summary
Using climate model experiments, we investigate the causes of the Eemian (125 000 years ago) warming in Greenland. Sea ice loss and sea surface warming prolong the impact of the summer insolation increase, causing warming throughout the year. We find potential for ice sheet mass loss in the north and southwestern parts of Greenland. Our simulations indicate that the direct impact of the insolation, rather than the indirect effect of the warmer ocean, is the dominant cause of ice sheet melt.