Quasi-100 ky glacial-interglacial cycles triggered by subglacial burial carbon release
Abstract. A mechanism is proposed in which climate, carbon cycle and icesheets interact with each other to produce a feedback that can lead to quasi-100 ky glacial-interglacial cycles. A central process is the burial and preservation of organic carbon by icesheets which contributes to the observed glacial-interglacial CO2 change (the glacial burial hypothesis, Zeng, 2003). Allowing carbon cycle to interact with physical climate, here I further hypothesize that deglaciation can be triggered by the ejection of glacial burial carbon when a major icesheet grows to sufficiently large size after a prolonged glaciation so that subglacial transport becomes significant. Glacial inception may be initiated by CO2 drawdown due to a relaxation from a high but transient interglacial CO2 value as the land-originated CO2 invades into deep ocean via thermohaline circulation and CaCO3 compensation. Also important for glacial inception may be the CO2 uptake by vegetation and soil regrowth in the previously ice-covered regions. When tested in a fully coupled Earth system model with comprehensive carbon cycle components and semi-empirical physical climate components, it produced under certain parameter regimes self-sustaining glacial-interglacial cycles with durations of 93 ky, CO2 changes of 90 ppmv, temperature changes of 6°C. Since the 100 ky cycles can not be easily explained by the Milankovitch astronomical forcing alone, this carbon-climate-icesheet mechanism provides a strong feedback that could interact with external forcings to produce the major observed Quaternary climatic variations. It is speculated that some glacial terminations may be triggered by this internal feedback while others by orbital forcing. Some observable consequences are highlighted that may support or falsify the theory.