Washington, June 20 : An international science team has gathered information from a Greenland ice core which shows that the Northern Hemisphere briefly emerged from the last ice age some 14,700 years ago with a 22-degree-Fahrenheit spike in just 50 years, then plunged back into icy conditions before abruptly warming again about 11,700 years ago.
Startlingly, the Greenland ice core evidence showed that a massive "reorganization" of atmospheric circulation in the Northern Hemisphere coincided with each temperature spurt, with each reorganization taking just one or two years, according to the study authors.
The ice cores, analyzed with powerful microscopes, were drilled as part of the North Greenland Ice Core Project led by project leader Dorthe Dahl-Jensen of the Centre for Ice and Climate at the Neils Bohr Institute of the University of Copenhagen.
The study included 17 co-investigators from Europe, one from Japan and two from the United States - Jim White and Trevor Popp from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The team used changes in dust levels and stable water isotopes in the annual ice layers of the two-mile-long Greenland ice core, which was hauled from the massive ice sheet between 1998 to 2004, to chart past temperature and precipitation swings.
"We have analyzed the transition from the last glacial period until our present warm interglacial period, and the climate shifts are happening suddenly, as if someone had pushed a button," said Dahl-Jenson.
According to the researchers, the first abrupt warming period beginning at 14,700 years ago lasted until about 12,900 years ago, when deep-freeze conditions returned for about 1,200 years before the onset of the second sharp warming event.
"The two events indicate a speed in the natural climate change process never before seen in ice cores," said White, director of CU-Boulder's Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research.
"We are beginning to tease apart the sequence of abrupt climate change," he added.
Both dramatic warming events were preceded by decreasing Greenland dust deposition, indicating higher tropical temperatures and significantly more rain falling on the deserts of Asia at the time.
The team believes the ancient tropical warming caused large, rapid atmospheric changes at the equator, the intensification of the Pacific monsoon, sea-ice loss in the North Atlantic Ocean and more atmospheric heat and moisture over Greenland and much of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere.
According to the authors, "Here we propose a series of events beginning in the lower latitudes and leading to changes in the ocean and atmosphere that reveal for the first time the anatomy of abrupt climate change."