New research from the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen shows that it may be due to an accumulation of different chaotic influences and as a result would be difficult to predict. The results have just been published in Geophysical Research Letters.
For millions of years the Earth's climate has alternated between about 100,000 years of ice age and approximately 10-15,000 years of a warm climate like we have today. The climate change is controlled by the Earth's orbit in space, that is to say the Earth's tilt and distance from the sun. But there are also other climatic shifts in the Earth's history and what caused those?
Dramatic climate change of the past
By analysing the ice cores that are drilled through the more than three kilometer thick ice sheet in Greenland, scientists can obtain information about the temperature and climate going back around 140,000 years.
The most pronounced climate shifts besides the end of the ice age is a series of climate changes during the ice age where the temperature suddenly rose 10-15 degrees in less than 10 years. The climate change lasted perhaps 1000 years, then - bang – the temperature fell drastically and the climate changed again. This happened several times during the ice age and these climate shifts are called the Dansgaard-Oeschger events after the researchers who discovered and described them. Such a sudden, dramatic shift in climate from one state to another is called a tipping point. However, the cause of the rapid climate change is not known and researchers have been unable to reproduce them in modern climate models.
The climate in the balance
"We have made a theoretical modelling of two different scenarios that might trigger climate change. We wanted to investigate if it could be determined whether there was an external factor which caused the climate change or whether the shift was due to an accumulation of small, chaotic fluctuations", explains Peter Ditlevsen, a climate researcher at the Niels Bohr Institute.
He explains that in one scenario the climate is like a seesaw that has tipped to one side. If sufficient weight is placed on the other side the seesaw will tip – the climate will change from one state to another. This could be, for example, an increase in the atmospheric content of CO2 triggering a shift in the climate.
In the second scenario the climate is like a ball in a trench, which represents one climate state. The ball will be continuously pushed by chaos-dynamical fluctuations such as storms, heat waves, heavy rainfall and the melting of ice sheets, which affect ocean currents and so on. The turmoil in the climate system may finally push the ball over into the other trench, which represents a different climate state.
Peter Ditlevsen's research shows that you can actually distinguish between the two scenarios and it was the chaos-dynamical fluctuations that were the triggering cause of the dramatic climate changes during the ice age. This means that they are very difficult to predict.
Warm future climate
But what about today – what can happen to the climate of the future? "Today we have a different situation than during the ice age. The Earth has not had such a high CO2 content in the atmosphere since more than 15 million years ago, when the climate was very warm and alligators lived in England. So we have already started tilting the seesaw and at the same time the ball is perhaps getting kicked more and could jump over into the other trench. This could mean that the climate might not just slowly gets warmer over the next 1000 years, but that major climate changes theoretically could happen within a few decades", estimates Peter Ditlevsen, but stresses that his research only deals with investigating the climate of the past and not predictions of the future climate.
Peter Ditlevsen, climate researcher, PhD. Dr. Scient., Associate professor, Centre for Ice and Climate, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, +45 3532-0603, +45 2875-0603, firstname.lastname@example.org
Link to article in Geophysical Research Letters: http://www.agu.org/journals/gl/papersinpress.shtml#id2010GL044486
Gertie Skaarup | EurekAlert!
Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology
22.06.2017 | Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft
How reliable are shells as climate archives?
21.06.2017 | Leibniz-Zentrum für Marine Tropenforschung (ZMT)
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
26.06.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
26.06.2017 | Life Sciences
26.06.2017 | Health and Medicine