Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Carbon dioxide has played leading role in dictating global climate patterns

18.06.2010
CO2 levels explain why temperatures in tropical and arctic waters have risen and fallen together for the past 2.7 million years

Increasingly, the Earth's climate appears to be more connected than anyone would have imagined. El Niño, the weather pattern that originates in a patch of the equatorial Pacific, can spawn heat waves and droughts as far away as Africa.

Now, a research team led by Brown University has established that the climate in the tropics over at least the last 2.7 million years changed in lockstep with the cyclical spread and retreat of ice sheets thousands of miles away in the Northern Hemisphere. The findings appear to cement the link between the recent Ice Ages and temperature changes in tropical oceans. Based on that new link, the scientists conclude that carbon dioxide has played the lead role in dictating global climate patterns, beginning with the Ice Ages and continuing today.

"We think we have the simplest explanation for the link between the Ice Ages and the tropics over that time and the apparent role of carbon dioxide in the intensification of Ice Ages and corresponding changes in the tropics," said Timothy Herbert of Brown University and the lead author of the paper in Science. Herbert added, "but we don't know why. The answer lies in the ocean, we're pretty sure."

Candace Major of the National Science Foundation agrees: "This research certainly supports the idea of global sensitivity of climate to carbon dioxide as the first order of control on global temperature patterns," she says. "It also points to a strong sensitivity of global temperature to the levels of greenhouse gases on very long timescales, and shows that resulting climatic impacts are felt from the tropics to the poles."

The research team, including scientists from Luther College in Iowa, Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, and the University of Hong Kong, analyzed cores taken from the seabed at four locations in the tropical oceans: the Arabian Sea, the South China Sea, the eastern Pacific and the equatorial Atlantic Ocean.

The cores tell the story. Sedimentary cores taken from the ocean floor in four locations show that climate patterns in the tropics have mirrored Ice Age cycles for the last 2.7 million years and that carbon dioxide has played the leading role in determining global climate patterns. The researchers zeroed in on tropical ocean surface temperatures because these vast bodies, which make up roughly half of the world's oceans, in large measure orchestrate the amount of water in the atmosphere and thus rainfall patterns worldwide, as well as the concentration of water vapor, the most prevalent greenhouse gas.

Looking at the chemical remains of tiny marine organisms that lived in the sunlit zone of the ocean, the scientists were able to extract the surface temperature for the oceans for the last 3.5 million years, well before the beginning of the Ice Ages. Beginning about 2.7 million years ago, the geologists found that tropical ocean surface temperatures dropped by 1 to 3 degrees C (1.8 to 5.4 F) during each Ice Age, when ice sheets spread in the Northern Hemisphere and significantly cooled oceans in the northern latitudes. Even more compelling, the tropics also changed when Ice Age cycles switched from roughly 41,000-year to 100,000-year intervals.

"The tropics are reproducing this pattern both in the cooling that accompanies the glaciation in the Northern Hemisphere and the timing of those changes," Herbert said. "The biggest surprise to us was how similar the patterns looked all across the tropics since about 2.7 million years ago. We didn't expect such similarity."

Climate scientists have a record of carbon dioxide levels for the last 800,000 years--spanning the last seven Ice Ages--from ice cores taken in Antarctica. They have deduced that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere fell by about 30 percent during each cycle, and that most of that carbon dioxide was absorbed by high-latitude oceans such as the North Atlantic and the Southern Ocean. According to the new findings, this pattern began 2.7 million years ago, and the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide absorbed by the oceans has intensified with each successive Ice Age. Geologists know the Ice Ages have gotten progressively colder--leading to larger ice sheets--because they have found debris on the seabed of the North Atlantic and North Pacific left by icebergs that broke from the land-bound sheets.

"It seems likely that changes in carbon dioxide were the most important reason why tropical temperatures changed, along with the water vapor feedback," Herbert said.

Herbert acknowledges that the team's findings leave important questions. One is why carbon dioxide began to play a major role when the Ice Ages began 2.7 million years ago. Also left unanswered is why carbon dioxide appears to have magnified the intensity of successive Ice Ages from the beginning of the cycles to the present. The researchers do not understand why the timing of the Ice Age cycles shifted from roughly 41,000-year to 100,000-year intervals.

Contributing authors are Laura Cleaveland Peterson at Luther College, Kira Lawrence at Lafayette College and Zhonghui Liu at the University of Hong Kong. The U.S. National Science Foundation and the Evolving Earth Foundation funded the research. The cores came from the Ocean Drilling Program, sponsored by the NSF, and the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program.

Lily Whiteman | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Research sheds new light on forces that threaten sensitive coastlines
24.04.2017 | Indiana University

nachricht NASA sees the end of ex-Tropical Cyclone 02W
21.04.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

DGIST develops 20 times faster biosensor

24.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Nanoimprinted hyperlens array: Paving the way for practical super-resolution imaging

24.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Atomic-level motion may drive bacteria's ability to evade immune system defenses

24.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>