Modeling the Climatic Response to Orbital Variations

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Science  29 Feb 1980:
Vol. 207, Issue 4434, pp. 943-953
DOI: 10.1126/science.207.4434.943


According to the astronomical theory of climate, variations in the earth's orbit are the fundamental cause of the succession of Pleistocene ice ages. This article summarizes how the theory has evolved since the pioneer studies of James Croll and Milutin Milankovitch, reviews recent evidence that supports the theory, and argues that a major opportunity is at hand to investigate the physical mechanisms by which the climate system responds to orbital forcing. After a survey of the kinds of models that have been applied to this problem, a strategy is suggested for building simple, physically motivated models, and a time-dependent model is developed that simulates the history of planetary glaciation for the past 500,000 years. Ignoring anthropogenic and other possible sources of variation acting at frequencies higher than one cycle per 19,000 years, this model predicts that the long-term cooling trend which began some 6000 years ago will continue for the next 23,000 years.

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