As the planet cooled from peak warmth in the early Cenozoic, extensive Northern Hemisphere ice sheets developed by 2.6. Ma ago, leading to changes in the circulation of both the atmosphere and oceans. From ∼2.6 to ∼1.0. Ma ago, ice sheets came and went about every 41. ka, in pace with cycles in the tilt of Earth's axis, but for the past 700. ka, glacial cycles have been longer, lasting ∼100. ka, separated by brief, warm interglaciations, when sea level and ice volumes were close to present. The cause of the shift from 41. ka to 100. ka glacial cycles is still debated. During the penultimate interglaciation, ∼130 to ∼120. ka ago, solar energy in summer in the Arctic was greater than at any time subsequently. As a consequence, Arctic summers were ∼5 °C warmer than at present, and almost all glaciers melted completely except for the Greenland Ice Sheet, and even it was reduced in size substantially from its present extent. With the loss of land ice, sea level was about 5. m higher than present, with the extra melt coming from both Greenland and Antarctica as well as small glaciers. The Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) peaked ∼21. ka ago, when mean annual temperatures over parts of the Arctic were as much as 20 °C lower than at present. Ice recession was well underway 16. ka ago, and most of the Northern Hemisphere ice sheets had melted by 6. ka ago. Solar energy reached a summer maximum (9% higher than at present) ∼11. ka ago and has been decreasing since then, primarily in response to the precession of the equinoxes. The extra energy elevated early Holocene summer temperatures throughout the Arctic 1-3 °C above 20th century averages, enough to completely melt many small glaciers throughout the Arctic, although the Greenland Ice Sheet was only slightly smaller than at present. Early Holocene summer sea ice limits were substantially smaller than their 20th century average, and the flow of Atlantic water into the Arctic Ocean was substantially greater. As summer solar energy decreased in the second half of the Holocene, glaciers re-established or advanced, sea ice expanded, and the flow of warm Atlantic water into the Arctic Ocean diminished. Late Holocene cooling reached its nadir during the Little Ice Age (about 1250-1850 AD), when sun-blocking volcanic eruptions and perhaps other causes added to the orbital cooling, allowing most Arctic glaciers to reach their maximum Holocene extent. During the warming of the past century, glaciers have receded throughout the Arctic, terrestrial ecosystems have advanced northward, and perennial Arctic Ocean sea ice has diminished.Here we review the proxies that allow reconstruction of Quaternary climates and the feedbacks that amplify climate change across the Arctic. We provide an overview of the evolution of climate from the hot-house of the early Cenozoic through its transition to the ice-house of the Quaternary, with special emphasis on the anomalous warmth of the middle Pliocene, early Quaternary warm times, the Mid Pleistocene transition, warm interglaciations of marine isotope stages 11, 5e, and 1, the stage 3 interstadial, and the peak cold of the last glacial maximum.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Global and Planetary Change
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics