Reconstructing the Evolution of Ice Sheets, Sea Level and Atmospheric CO2 During the Past 3.6 Million Years

C. J. Berends, B. de Boer, R. S. W. van de Wal

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Understanding the evolution of, and the interactions between, ice sheets and the global climate over geological
time is important for being able to constrain earth system sensitivity. However, direct observational evidence of past CO2
concentrations only exists for the past 800,000 years. Records of benthic d 10 18O date back millions of years, but contain
signals from both land ice volume and ocean temperature. In recent years, inverse forward modelling has been developed as
a method to disentangle these two signals, resulting in mutually consistent reconstructions of ice volume, temperature and
CO2. We use this approach to force a hybrid ice-sheet – climate model with a benthic d18O stack, reconstructing the
evolution of the ice sheets, global mean sea level and atmospheric CO2 during the late Pliocene and the Pleistocene, from 3.6
15 million years (Myr) ago to the present day. During the warmer-than-present climates of the Late Pliocene, reconstructed CO2
varies widely, from 320 – 440 ppmv for warm periods such as Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) KM5c, to 235 – 250 ppmv for the
MIS M2 glacial excursion. Sea level is relatively stable during this period, with a high stand of 6 – 14 m, and a drop of 12 –
26 m during MIS M2. Both CO2 and sea level are within the wide ranges of values covered by available proxy data for this
period. Our results for the Pleistocene agree well with the ice-core CO2 record, as well as with different available sea-level
20 proxy data. During the early Pleistocene, 2.6 – 1.2 Myr ago, we simulate 40 kyr glacial cycles, with interglacial CO2
decreasing from 280 – 300 ppmv at the beginning of the Pleistocene, to 250 – 280 ppmv just before the Mid-Pleistocene
Transition (MPT). Peak glacial CO2 decreases from 220 – 250 ppmv to 205 – 225 ppmv during this period. After the MPT,
when the glacial cycles change from 40 kyr to 80/120 kyr cyclicity, the glacial-interglacial contrast increases, with
interglacial CO2 varying between 250 – 320 ppmv, and peak glacial values decreasing to 170 – 210 ppmv
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalClimate of the Past Discussions
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2020


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