Links between annual, Milankovitch and continuum temperature variability


Climate variability exists at all timescales—and climatic processes are intimately coupled, so that understanding variability at any one timescale requires some understanding of the whole. Records of the Earth's surface temperature illustrate this interdependence, having a continuum of variability following a power-law scaling1,2,3,4,5,6,7. But although specific modes of interannual variability are relatively well understood8,9, the general controls on continuum variability are uncertain and usually described as purely stochastic processes10,11,12,13. Here we show that power-law relationships of surface temperature variability scale with annual and Milankovitch-period (23,000- and 41,000-year) cycles. The annual cycle corresponds to scaling at monthly to decadal periods, while millennial and longer periods are tied to the Milankovitch cycles. Thus the annual, Milankovitch and continuum temperature variability together represent the response to deterministic insolation forcing. The identification of a deterministic control on the continuum provides insight into the mechanisms governing interannual and longer-period climate variability.

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Figure 1: Temperature scaling at instrumental periods from NCEP.
Figure 2: Patch-work spectral estimate using instrumental and proxy records of surface temperature variability, and insolation at 65° N.


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P.H. was supported by the NOAA Postdoctoral Program in Climate and Global Change. Funding for W.C. was provided by the National Science Foundation, Division of Ocean Sciences. T. Crowley, R. Ferrari, O. Marchal, J. Sachs, D. Steele and C. Wunsch provided useful comments.

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Correspondence to Peter Huybers.

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Huybers, P., Curry, W. Links between annual, Milankovitch and continuum temperature variability. Nature 441, 329–332 (2006).

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