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Insolation and CO2 contribution to the interglacial climate before and after the Mid-Brunhes Event


Reconstructions of climate from marine sediment1 and ice2 cores show that the amplitude of glacial–interglacial climate cycles increased substantially after the Mid-Brunhes Event3, about 430,000 years ago. Interglacial periods before the event seem to be characterized by larger continental ice sheets, lower sea level4,5, cooler temperatures in Antarctica2 and lower atmospheric CO2 concentrations6, relative to the more recent interglacials. Here we use an Earth system model of intermediate complexity to assess the contributions of insolation and greenhouse-gas concentrations to the climate associated with the peaks of all the interglacials over the past 800,000 years. Our simulations recreate the expected warmer interglacials after the Mid-Brunhes Event and suggest that later interglacials are warmer primarily because of increased global mean temperatures during Northern Hemisphere winters. This warmth arises from increased insolation during this season, relative to the interglacials that preceded the Mid-Brunhes Event, in conjunction with increased atmospheric greenhouse-gas concentrations. The effect of boreal winters and of the Southern Hemisphere, which is also warmer during austral winters, on the carbon cyle should be assessed when investigating the underlying causes of the higher CO2 concentrations during the later interglacials.

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Figure 1: Marine δ18O (ref. 1), precession and obliquity23 around the past 10 interglacial peaks.
Figure 2: Difference in the distribution of insolation between the average the post-MBE interglacials and of the pre-MBE ones.
Figure 3: Simulated surface temperature averaged globally and by hemispheres.
Figure 4: Geographical distribution of the simulated temperature difference between the average of the post-MBE interglacials and of the pre-MBE ones.


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This work is supported by the European Research Council Advanced Grant EMIS (No 227348 of the Programme ‘Ideas’). Q.Z.Y. is a postdoctoral fellow of the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research (F.R.S.-FNRS) and has benefited from personal support by Y. du Monceau. Access to computer facilities was made easier through sponsorship from S. A. Electrabel, Belgium.

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Both authors contributed equally to the design of the experiments, the analysis of the results and the writing of the paper. Q.Z.Y. carried out the modelling experiments.

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Correspondence to Q. Z. Yin.

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Yin, Q., Berger, A. Insolation and CO2 contribution to the interglacial climate before and after the Mid-Brunhes Event. Nature Geosci 3, 243–246 (2010).

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