Combined obliquity and precession pacing of late Pleistocene deglaciations

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Milankovitch1 proposed that Earth resides in an interglacial state when its spin axis both tilts to a high obliquity and precesses to align the Northern Hemisphere summer with Earth’s nearest approach to the Sun. This general concept has been elaborated into hypotheses that precession2, obliquity3,4 or combinations of both5,6,7,8 could pace deglaciations during the late Pleistocene9,10. Earlier tests have shown that obliquity paces the late Pleistocene glacial cycles4,11 but have been inconclusive with regard to precession, whose shorter period of about 20,000 years makes phasing more sensitive to timing errors4,11,12. No quantitative test has provided firm evidence for a dual effect. Here I show that both obliquity and precession pace late Pleistocene glacial cycles. Deficiencies in time control that have long stymied efforts to establish orbital effects on deglaciation are overcome using a new statistical test that focuses on maxima in orbital forcing. The results are fully consistent with Milankovitch’s proposal but also admit the possibility that long Southern Hemisphere summers contribute to deglaciation.

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This work benefited from comments by G. Gebbie, L. Lisiecki, A. Stine and C. Wunsch.

Author information


  1. Harvard University, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 20 Oxford Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Peter Huybers


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Competing interests

The author declares no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Zip files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This zipped file contains the individual Matlab files that were used to generate the statistical and modeling results presented in the main paper. Also included is a supporting file (run_first.m) that contains the search path and three supporting directories that contain a total of 22 other files. Each m-file contains header information that explains its functionality in more detail.


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