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Possible solar origin of the 1,470-year glacial climate cycle demonstrated in a coupled model

Abstract

Many palaeoclimate records from the North Atlantic region show a pattern of rapid climate oscillations, the so-called Dansgaard–Oeschger events, with a quasi-periodicity of 1,470 years for the late glacial period1,2,3,4,5,6. Various hypotheses have been suggested to explain these rapid temperature shifts, including internal oscillations in the climate system and external forcing, possibly from the Sun7. But whereas pronounced solar cycles of 87 and 210 years are well known8,9,10,11,12, a 1,470-year solar cycle has not been detected8. Here we show that an intermediate-complexity climate model with glacial climate conditions simulates rapid climate shifts similar to the Dansgaard–Oeschger events with a spacing of 1,470 years when forced by periodic freshwater input into the North Atlantic Ocean in cycles of 87 and 210 years. We attribute the robust 1,470-year response time to the superposition of the two shorter cycles, together with strongly nonlinear dynamics and the long characteristic timescale of the thermohaline circulation. For Holocene conditions, similar events do not occur. We conclude that the glacial 1,470-year climate cycles could have been triggered by solar forcing despite the absence of a 1,470-year solar cycle.

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Figure 1: Applied freshwater forcing in the simulation.
Figure 2: Simulated changes Δ T in Greenland surface air temperature.
Figure 3: Schematic response of the model for different amplitudes A (with A = A1 = A2) and offsets K in the forcing.
Figure 4: Model response for non-sinusoidal forcing profiles.

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Acknowledgements

We thank N. Latuske for insight into spectral analysis; M. Claussen, R. Calov and E. Bauer for support and helpful comments; and the late G. Bond for his support and for many discussions that helped to improve the quality of this study. C.K. was funded by a subcontract to a project of the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF).

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Correspondence to Holger Braun.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Discussion 1

This discusses the stability of the simulated 1,470-year climate cycle. We consider changes in the forcing parameters, we incorporate noise in the freshwater forcing, and we discuss the robustness of the model response when a more realistic forcing is used with spectral properties close to that observed in solar proxies. (PDF 94 kb)

Supplementary Discussion 2

In this section, we illustrate the dynamics of the simulated DO events. This is done by comparing the response of the climate system model CLIMBER-2 with that of a very simple conceptual model which only accounts for two features of the THC, the large characteristic timescale and the high degree of non-linearity (PDF 113 kb)

Supplementary Figure 1

This figure shows the stability of the simulated 1,470-year climate cycle with respect to changes of the forcing frequencies of the two sinusoidal freshwater components. Each of the two forcing periods is varied over decades while the second cycle is at a fixed period. (PDF 98 kb)

Supplementary Figure 2

This figure shows the stability of the simulated 1,470-year climate cycle with respect to changes of the forcing frequencies of the two sinusoidal freshwater components. Both forcing periods are varied simultaneously such that the ratio of the two forcing frequencies is nearly fixed. (PDF 80 kb)

Supplementary Figure 3

This figure shows the stability of the simulated 1,470-year climate cycle with respect to variations of the forcing amplitudes of the two sinusoidal freshwater components. Both forcing amplitudes are varied simultaneously while their sum is fixed. (PDF 93 kb)

Supplementary Figure 4

This figure shows the stability of the simulated 1,470-year climate cycle with respect to additional noise in the freshwater fluxes. By varying the noise level and the forcing amplitudes, three different values are prescribed for the signal-to-noise ratio. (PDF 236 kb)

Supplementary Figure 5

additional noise in the freshwater fluxes. For a fixed noise level, the amplitude of each single forcing cycle is varied while the amplitude of the second cycle is fixed. (PDF 395 kb)

Supplementary Figure 6

This figure illustrates the basic idea of the simple conceptual model that we apply to clarify the dynamics of the DO events simulated by the climate system model CLIMBER-2. (PDF 134 kb)

Supplementary Figure 7

This figure shows the response of the conceptual model to the applied forcing for different amplitudes of the two sinusoidal freshwater cycles. (PDF 300 kb)

Supplementary Figure 8

This figure shows the stability of the simulated 1,470-year climate cycle with respect to changes of the forcing frequencies of the two sinusoidal freshwater components. In both the conceptual model and the climate system model CLIMBER-2, the two forcing periods are varied simultaneously such that the ratio of the two forcing frequencies is nearly fixed. (PDF 86 kb)

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Braun, H., Christl, M., Rahmstorf, S. et al. Possible solar origin of the 1,470-year glacial climate cycle demonstrated in a coupled model. Nature 438, 208–211 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04121

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