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Glacial terminations as southern warmings without northern control

Nature Geoscience volume 2, pages 206209 (2009) | Download Citation



The change from a glacial to an interglacial climate is paced by variations in Earth’s orbit1. However, the detailed sequence of events that leads to a glacial termination remains controversial. It is particularly unclear whether the northern2,3 or southern4,5,6 hemisphere leads the termination. Here we present a hypothesis for the beginning and continuation of glacial terminations, which relies on the observation that the initial stages of terminations are indistinguishable from the warming stage of events in Antarctica known as Antarctic Isotopic Maxima7, which occur frequently during glacial periods. Such warmings in Antarctica generally begin to reverse with the onset of a warm Dansgaard–Oeschger event in the northern hemisphere7,8. However, in the early stages of a termination, Antarctic warming is not followed by any abrupt warming in the north. We propose that the lack of an Antarctic climate reversal enables southern warming and the associated atmospheric carbon dioxide rise to reach a point at which full deglaciation becomes inevitable. In our view, glacial terminations, in common with other warmings that do not lead to termination, are led from the southern hemisphere, but only specific conditions in the northern hemisphere enable the climate state to complete its shift to interglacial conditions.

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This work is a contribution to the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA), a joint European Science Foundation/European Commission scientific programme, funded by the EU and by national contributions from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The main logistic support was provided by IPEV and PNRA (at Dome C) and AWI (at Dronning Maud Land).

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  1. British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK

    • E. W. Wolff
    •  & R. Röthlisberger
  2. University of Bern, Physics Institute, Climate and Environmental Physics, Sidlerstrasse 5, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland

    • H. Fischer
  3. Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, 3012 Bern, Switzerland

    • H. Fischer


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Correspondence to E. W. Wolff.

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