Long Period Climate Change

Milankovitch cycles are the collective effect of changes in the Earth’s movements upon its climate, named after Serbian civil engineer and mathematician Milutin Milanković. The eccentricity, axial tilt, and precession of the Earth’s orbit vary in several patterns, resulting in 100,000-year ice age cycles of the Quaternary glaciation over the last few million years. The Earth’s axis completes one full cycle of precession approximately every 26,000 years. At the same time, the elliptical orbit rotates, more slowly, leading to a 21,000-year cycle between the seasons and the orbit. In addition, the angle between Earth’s rotational axis and the normal to the plane of its orbit moves from 22.1 degrees to 24.5 degrees and back again on a 41,000-year cycle. Currently, this angle is 23.44 degrees and is decreasing.
The Milankovitch theory[1] of climate change is not perfectly worked out; in particular, the largest observed response is at the 100,000-year timescale, but the forcing is apparently small at this scale, in regard to the ice ages. Various feedbacks (from carbon dioxide, or from ice sheet dynamics) are invoked to explain this discrepancy.
Milankovitch-like theories were advanced by Joseph Adhemar, James Croll and others, but verification was difficult due to the absence of reliably dated evidence and doubts as to exactly which periods were important. Not until the advent of deep-ocean cores and a seminal paper by Hays, Imbrie and Shackleton, “Variations in the Earth’s Orbit: Pacemaker of the Ice Ages”, in Science, 1976,[2] did the theory attain its present state.


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