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Arctic climate variation under ancient greenhouse conditions
Date:2/11/2011

Tiny organisms preserved in marine sediments hold clues about Arctic climate variation during an ancient episode of greenhouse warming.

Based on reconstructions of Arctic climate variability in the greenhouse world of the Late Cretaceous, Southampton scientists have concluded that man-made global warming probably would not greatly change the climatic influence associated with natural modes of inter-annual climate variability such as the El Nio Southern Oscillation (ENSO) or the Arctic Oscillation/ North Atlantic Oscillation (AO/ NAO).

"Even in the warm Cretaceous period, the patterns of these climatic oscillations changed over longer decadal timescales," explained Professor Alan Kemp of the University of Southampton's School of Ocean and Earth Science based at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. "It is therefore difficult to predict whether anthropogenically driven warming will lead to systematic changes such as persistently milder European winters (a positive AO/ NAO) as some have suggested."

It is anticipated that the Arctic Ocean will become ice free during the summer within the next 15󈞞 years as a result of global warming. Because sea ice is reflective, its loss will reduce the amount of the Sun's energy bounced back out to space, thereby amplifying regional warming. However, changes in atmospheric circulation could also occur, making it difficult to unravel the likely net effect on climate.

"A key question is how an Arctic without permanent ice cover will affect atmospheric circulation and climate variability, particularly over high and mid latitudes," said Kemp.

One way of addressing this issue is to look back at previous greenhouse episodes in Earth's history. For example, Kemp's group has previously reported in the journal Nature that during the Late Cretaceous, when the dinosaurs roamed the world, the Arctic Ocean was free of ice in summer with only intermittent sea ice in th
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Contact: Dr. Rory Howlett
r.howlett@noc.soton.ac.uk
National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (UK)
Source:Eurekalert  

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