Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Global warming preceded by increasing carbon dioxide concentrations during the last deglaciation

Subjects

Abstract

The covariation of carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration and temperature in Antarctic ice-core records suggests a close link between CO2 and climate during the Pleistocene ice ages. The role and relative importance of CO2 in producing these climate changes remains unclear, however, in part because the ice-core deuterium record reflects local rather than global temperature. Here we construct a record of global surface temperature from 80 proxy records and show that temperature is correlated with and generally lags CO2 during the last (that is, the most recent) deglaciation. Differences between the respective temperature changes of the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere parallel variations in the strength of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation recorded in marine sediments. These observations, together with transient global climate model simulations, support the conclusion that an antiphased hemispheric temperature response to ocean circulation changes superimposed on globally in-phase warming driven by increasing CO2 concentrations is an explanation for much of the temperature change at the end of the most recent ice age.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Proxy temperature records.
Figure 2: CO 2 concentration and temperature.
Figure 3: Global temperature and climate forcings.
Figure 4: Hemispheric temperatures.
Figure 5: Temperature change before increase in CO 2 concentration.

References

  1. 1

    Hays, J. D., Imbrie, J. & Shackleton, N. J. Variations in the Earth’s orbit: pacemaker of the ice ages. Science 194, 1121–1132 (1976)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Delmas, R. J., Ascencio, J. M. & Legrand, M. Polar ice evidence that atmospheric CO2 20,000 yr BP was 50% of present. Nature 284, 155–157 (1980)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Neftel, A., Oeschger, H., Schwander, J., Stauffer, B. & Zumbrunn, R. Ice core sample measurements give atmospheric CO2 content during the past 40,000 yr. Nature 295, 220–223 (1982)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Lüthi, D. et al. High-resolution carbon dioxide concentration record 650,000–800,000 years before present. Nature 453, 379–382 (2008)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Shackleton, N. J. The 100,000 year ice-age cycle identified and found to lag temperature, carbon dioxide and orbital eccentricity. Science 289, 1897–1902 (2000)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Imbrie, J. et al. On the structure and origin of major glaciation cycles. 2. The 100,000-year cycle. Paleoceanography 8, 699–735 (1993)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Alley, R. B. & Clark, P. U. The deglaciation of the northern hemisphere: a global perspective. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 27, 149–182 (1999)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Toggweiler, J. R. & Lea, D. W. Temperature differences between the hemispheres and ice age climate variability. Paleoceanography 25, PA2212 (2010)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Weaver, A. J., Eby, M., Fanning, A. F. & Wiebe, E. C. Simulated influence of carbon dioxide, orbital forcing and ice sheets on the climate of the Last Glacial Maximum. Nature 394, 847–853 (1998)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Schneider von Deimling, T., Held, H., Ganopolski, A. & Rahmstorf, S. Climate sensitivity estimated from ensemble simulations of glacial climate. Clim. Dyn. 27, 149–163 (2006)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Mix, A. C., Ruddiman, W. F. & McIntyre, A. Late Quaternary paleoceanography of the tropical Atlantic, 1: spatial variability of annual mean sea-surface temperatures, 0–20,000 years B.P. Paleoceanography 1, 43–66 (1986)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Monnin, E. et al. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations over the last glacial termination. Science 291, 112–114 (2001)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Lemieux-Dudon, B. et al. Consistent dating for Antarctic and Greenland ice cores. Quat. Sci. Rev. 29, 8–20 (2010)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Fischer, H., Wahlen, M., Smith, J., Mastroianni, D. & Deck, B. Ice core records of atmospheric CO2 around the last three glacial terminations. Science 283, 1712–1714 (1999)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Hansen, J. et al. Climate response times: dependence on climate sensitivity and ocean mixing. Science 229, 857–859 (1985)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Manabe, S. & Broccoli, A. J. The influence of continental ice sheets on the climate of an ice age. J. Geophys. Res. 90, 2167–2190 (1985)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Broccoli, A. J. Tropical cooling at the Last Glacial Maximum: an atmosphere-mixed layer ocean model simulation. J. Clim. 13, 951–976 (2000)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Chiang, J. C. H. & Bitz, C. M. Influence of high latitude ice cover on the marine Intertropical Convergence Zone. Clim. Dyn. 25, 477–496 (2005)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Jansen, E. et al. in Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis (eds Solomon, S. et al.) 433–497 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007)

  20. 20

    Clark, P. U. et al. Global climate evolution during the last deglaciation. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA advance online publication. 10.1073/pnas.1116619109 (13 February 2012)

  21. 21

    Blunier, T. et al. Synchronization of ice core records via atmospheric gases. Clim. Past 3, 325–330 (2007)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Crowley, T. J. North Atlantic Deep Water cools the Southern Hemisphere. Paleoceanography 7, 489–497 (1992)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Stocker, T. F. & Johnsen, S. J. A minimum thermodynamic model for the bipolar seesaw. Paleoceanography 18, 1087 (2003)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    McManus, J. F., Francois, R., Gherardi, J.-M., Keigwin, L. D. & Brown-Leger, S. Collapse and rapid resumption of Atlantic meridional circulation linked to deglacial climate changes. Nature 428, 834–837 (2004)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Liu, Z. et al. Transient simulation of last deglaciation with a new mechanism for Bølling-Allerød warming. Science 325, 310–314 (2009)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Clark, P. U. et al. The Last Glacial Maximum. Science 325, 710–714 (2009)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Schmittner, A. et al. Climate sensitivity estimated from temperature reconstructions of the Last Glacial Maximum. Science 334, 1385–1388 (2011)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Alley, R. B., Brook, E. J. & Anandakrishnan, S. A northern lead in the orbital band: north-south phasing of Ice-Age events. Quat. Sci. Rev. 21, 431–441 (2002)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Yokoyama, Y., Lambeck, K., De Deckker, P., Johnston, P. & Fifield, L. K. Timing of the Last Glacial Maximum from observed sea-level minima. Nature 406, 713–716 (2000)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Clark, P. U., McCabe, A. M., Mix, A. C. & Weaver, A. J. Rapid rise of sea level 19,000 years ago and its global implications. Science 304, 1141–1144 (2004)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31

    Marchitto, T. M., Lehman, S. J., Ortiz, J. D., Fluckiger, J. & van Geen, A. Marine radiocarbon evidence for the mechanism of deglacial atmospheric CO2 rise. Science 316, 1456–1459 (2007)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32

    Skinner, L. C., Fallon, S., Waelbroeck, C., Michel, E. & Barker, S. Ventilation of the deep Southern Ocean and deglacial CO2 rise. Science 328, 1147–1151 (2010)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33

    Stephens, B. B. & Keeling, R. F. The influence of Antarctic sea ice on glacial-interglacial CO2 variations. Nature 404, 171–174 (2000)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34

    Toggweiler, J. R., Russell, J. L. & Carson, S. R. Midlatitude westerlies, atmospheric CO2, and climate change during the ice ages. Paleoceanography 21, PA2005 (2006)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35

    Schmittner, A. & Galbraith, E. D. Glacial greenhouse-gas fluctuations controlled by ocean circulation changes. Nature 456, 373–376 (2008)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36

    Barker, S. et al. Interhemispheric Atlantic seesaw response during the last deglaciation. Nature 457, 1097–1102 (2009)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37

    Schmittner, A., Saenko, O. & Weaver, A. J. Coupling of the hemispheres in observations and simulations of glacial climate change. Quat. Sci. Rev. 22, 659–671 (2003)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38

    Anderson, R. F. et al. Wind-driven upwelling in the Southern Ocean and the deglacial rise in atmospheric CO2 . Science 323, 1443–1448 (2009)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39

    Stott, L., Timmermann, A. & Thunell, R. Southern hemisphere and deep-sea warming led deglacial atmospheric CO2 rise and tropical warming. Science 318, 435–438 (2007)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40

    Huybers, P. & Denton, G. Antarctic temperature at orbital timescales controlled by local summer duration. Nature Geosci. 1, 787–792 (2008)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41

    Müller, P. J., Kirst, G., Ruhland, G., von Storch, I. & Rosell-Mele, A. Calibration of the alkenone paleotemperature index U37K' based on core-tops from the eastern South Atlantic and the global ocean (60°N-60°S). Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 62, 1757–1772 (1998)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42

    Pedro, J. B. et al. The last deglaciation: timing the bipolar seesaw. Clim. Past Discuss. 7, 397–430 (2011)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  43. 43

    Dyke, A. S. in Quaternary Glaciations: Extent and Chronology Vol. 2b (eds Ehlers, J. & Gibbard, P. L. ) 373–424 (Elsevier, 2004)

    Book  Google Scholar 

  44. 44

    Laskar, J. et al. A long term numerical solution for the insolation quantities of the Earth. Astron. Astrophys. 428, 261–285 (2004)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45

    Cuffey, K. M. & Clow, G. D. Temperature, accumulation, and ice sheet elevation in central Greenland through the last deglacial transition. J. Geophys. Res. 102, 26383–26396 (1997)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  46. 46

    Schneider, T. Analysis of incomplete climate data: estimation of mean values and covariance matrices and imputation of missing values. J. Clim. 14, 853–871 (2001)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  47. 47

    Huybers, P. & Wunsch, C. A depth-derived Pleistocene age model: uncertainty estimates, sedimentation variability, and nonlinear climate change. Paleoceanography 19, PA1028 (2004)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  48. 48

    Viau, A. E., Gajewski, K., Sawada, M. C. & Bunbury, J. Low- and high-frequency climate variability in eastern Beringia during the past 25 000 years. Can. J. Earth Sci. 45, 1435–1453 (2008)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  49. 49

    Rasmussen, S. O. et al. Synchronization of the NGRIP, GRIP, and GISP2 ice cores across MIS 2 and palaeoclimatic implications. Quat. Sci. Rev. 27, 18–28 (2008)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  50. 50

    Svensson, A. et al. A 60000 year Greenland stratigraphic ice core chronology. Clim. Past 4, 47–57 (2008)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. 51

    Anand, P., Elderfield, H. & Conte, M. H. Calibration of Mg/Ca thermometry in planktonic foraminifera from a sediment trap time series. Paleoceanography 18, 1050 (2003)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  52. 52

    Kim, J. H., Schouten, S., Hopmans, E. C., Donner, B. & Damste, J. S. S. Global sediment core-top calibration of the TEX86 paleothermometer in the ocean. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 72, 1154–1173 (2008)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  53. 53

    Jouzel, J. et al. Magnitude of isotope/temperature scaling for interpretation of central Antarctic ice cores. J. Geophys. Res. 108, 4361 (2003)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. 54

    von Storch, H. & Zwiers, F. W. Statistical Analysis in Climate Research 115 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999)

    Book  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

Discussions with numerous people, including E. J. Brook, A. E. Carlson, N. G. Pisias and J. Shaman, contributed to this research. We acknowledge the palaeoclimate community for generating the proxy data sets used here. In particular, we thank S. Barker, T. Barrows, E. Calvo, J. Kaiser, A. Koutavas, Y. Kubota, V. Peck, C. Pelejero, J.-R. Petit, J. Sachs, E. Schefuß, J. Tierney and G. Wei for providing proxy data, and R. Gyllencreutz and J. Mangerud for providing unpublished results of the DATED Project on the retreat history of the Eurasian ice sheets. The NOAA NGDC and PANGAEA databases were also essential to this work. This research used resources of the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, located in the National Center for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is supported by the Office of Science of the Department of Energy under contract no. DE-AC05-00OR22725. NCAR is sponsored by the NSF. J.D.S. is supported by a NOAA Climate and Global Change Postdoctoral Fellowship. This research was supported by the NSF Paleoclimate Program for the Paleovar Project through grant AGS-0602395.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

J.D.S. designed the study, synthesized and analysed data, and wrote the manuscript with P.U.C. F.H., Z.L. and B.O.-B. did the transient modelling. S.A.M. and A.C.M. contributed to data analysis. A.S. helped interpret AMOC–CO2 linkages. E.B. provided data and discussion on the radiocarbon calibration. All authors discussed the results and provided input on the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jeremy D. Shakun.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Text and Data, Supplementary Figures 1-30, Supplementary Tables 1-3, additional References and Supplementary Appendices 1-2. (PDF 9474 kb)

Supplementary Data

This file contains Supplementary Data. (XLS 2499 kb)

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Shakun, J., Clark, P., He, F. et al. Global warming preceded by increasing carbon dioxide concentrations during the last deglaciation. Nature 484, 49–54 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature10915

Download citation

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing