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Covariation of carbon dioxide and temperature from the Vostok ice core after deuterium-excess correction


Ice-core measurements of carbon dioxide1,2 and the deuterium palaeothermometer reveal significant covariation of temperature and atmospheric CO2 concentrations throughout the climate cycles of the past ice ages. This covariation provides compelling evidence that CO2 is an important forcing factor for climate3,4,5. But this interpretation is challenged by some substantial mismatches of the CO2 and deuterium records, especially during the onset of the last glaciation, about 120 kyr ago. Here we incorporate measurements of deuterium excess from Vostok6,7 in the temperature reconstruction and show that much of the mismatch is an artefact caused by variations of climate in the water vapour source regions. Using a model that corrects for this effect, we derive a new estimate for the covariation of CO2 and temperature, of r2 = 0.89 for the past 150 kyr and r2 = 0.84 for the period 350–150 kyr ago. Given the complexity of the biogeochemical systems involved, this close relationship strongly supports the importance of carbon dioxide as a forcing factor of climate. Our results also suggest that the mechanisms responsible for the drawdown of CO2 may be more responsive to temperature than previously thought.

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Figure 1: Comparison of carbon dioxide and deuterium histories in Vostok ice3.
Figure 2: Comparison of carbon dioxide and reconstructed Southern Hemisphere temperature, ΔTH.
Figure 3: Effect of phase-shifting the deuterium-excess data.

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We thank J. R. Petit et al. for access to the data of ref. 1, and I. Fung and the staff of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center, J. Jouzel, V. Masson, J. Kirchner and R. Alley for discussions. This work was supported by the US NSF; the Vostok project was supported in France by the PNEDC.

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Correspondence to Kurt M. Cuffey.

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Cuffey, K., Vimeux, F. Covariation of carbon dioxide and temperature from the Vostok ice core after deuterium-excess correction. Nature 412, 523–527 (2001).

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