Articles | Volume 9, issue 2
Research article
11 Mar 2013
Research article |  | 11 Mar 2013

Last interglacial temperature evolution – a model inter-comparison

P. Bakker, E. J. Stone, S. Charbit, M. Gröger, U. Krebs-Kanzow, S. P. Ritz, V. Varma, V. Khon, D. J. Lunt, U. Mikolajewicz, M. Prange, H. Renssen, B. Schneider, and M. Schulz

Abstract. There is a growing number of proxy-based reconstructions detailing the climatic changes that occurred during the last interglacial period (LIG). This period is of special interest, because large parts of the globe were characterized by a warmer-than-present-day climate, making this period an interesting test bed for climate models in light of projected global warming. However, mainly because synchronizing the different palaeoclimatic records is difficult, there is no consensus on a global picture of LIG temperature changes. Here we present the first model inter-comparison of transient simulations covering the LIG period. By comparing the different simulations, we aim at investigating the common signal in the LIG temperature evolution, investigating the main driving forces behind it and at listing the climate feedbacks which cause the most apparent inter-model differences.

The model inter-comparison shows a robust Northern Hemisphere July temperature evolution characterized by a maximum between 130–125 ka BP with temperatures 0.3 to 5.3 K above present day. A Southern Hemisphere July temperature maximum, −1.3 to 2.5 K at around 128 ka BP, is only found when changes in the greenhouse gas concentrations are included. The robustness of simulated January temperatures is large in the Southern Hemisphere and the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. For these regions maximum January temperature anomalies of respectively −1 to 1.2 K and −0.8 to 2.1 K are simulated for the period after 121 ka BP. In both hemispheres these temperature maxima are in line with the maximum in local summer insolation.

In a number of specific regions, a common temperature evolution is not found amongst the models. We show that this is related to feedbacks within the climate system which largely determine the simulated LIG temperature evolution in these regions. Firstly, in the Arctic region, changes in the summer sea-ice cover control the evolution of LIG winter temperatures. Secondly, for the Atlantic region, the Southern Ocean and the North Pacific, possible changes in the characteristics of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation are crucial. Thirdly, the presence of remnant continental ice from the preceding glacial has shown to be important when determining the timing of maximum LIG warmth in the Northern Hemisphere. Finally, the results reveal that changes in the monsoon regime exert a strong control on the evolution of LIG temperatures over parts of Africa and India. By listing these inter-model differences, we provide a starting point for future proxy-data studies and the sensitivity experiments needed to constrain the climate simulations and to further enhance our understanding of the temperature evolution of the LIG period.