Origin of Global Meltwater Pulses

  • Richard G. Fairbanks
  • Christopher D. Charles
  • James D. Wright


The fact that frequencies measured in climate records are the same as those predicted by the astronomical theory of climate change is undisputed (Hays, Imbrie & Shackleton 1976). However, the mechanisms by which these small changes in seasonal insolation are amplified into glacial cycles remain a fundamental mystery of the Earth’s climate system. The Barbados postglacial sea-level record is sufficiently detailed to resolve, for the first time, the rates as well as the magnitude of continental ice melting (Fairbanks 1989, 1990) (Fig 30.1A). The Barbados meltwater discharge curve is not smooth but pulsed, with peaks at 12,000 14C years1 and 9500 14C years (Fig 30.1B). Sea level rose more than 24 m during each of these pulses, with annual rates of sea-level rise exceeding 3 cm/yr. These enormous pulses must mark the ice-sheet response to a change in one or more of the climate amplifiers (eg, greenhouse gases and oceanic heat transports). The suspected amplifiers have different time constants and different regional sensitivities. Therefore, the discovery of both the pulsed deglaciation itself and the geographic origin of the pulses may help pinpoint the factors responsible for the timing of the large sea-level change associated with the last deglaciation, as well as the cause of previous “terminations” which recur every 100,000 14C years during the late Pleistocene Epoch (Broecker 1984).


Southern Ocean Benthic Foraminifera Planktonic Foraminifera Thermohaline Circulation North Atlantic Deep Water 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Andrews, JT, Evans, LW, Williams, KM, Briggs, WM, Jull, AJT, Erlenkeuser, H and Hardy, I 1990 Cryosphere/ocean interactions at the margins of the Laurentide Ice Sheet during the Younger Dryas chron: SE Baffin Shelf, Northwest Territories, 5. Paleoceanography.Google Scholar
  2. Bard, E, Arnold, M, Duprat, J, Moyes, J and Duplessy, J-C 1987 Retreat velocity of the North Atlantic polar front during the last deglaciation determined by accelerator mass spectrometry. Nature 328: 791–794.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bard, E, Hamelin, B, Fairbanks, RG and Zindler, A 1990a Calibration of the 14 C timescale over the past 30,000 years using mass spectrometric U-Th ages from Barbados corals. Nature 345: 405–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bard, E, Hamelin, B, Fairbanks, RG, Zindler, A, Mathieu, G and Arnold, M 1990b U/Th and 10C ages of corals from Barbados and their use for calibrating the 14C time scale beyond 9000 years BP. In Yiou, F and Raisbeck, GM, eds, Proceedings of the 5th International Symposium on Accelerator Mass Spectrometry. Nuclear Instruments and Methods B52: 461–468.Google Scholar
  5. Barnola, J-M, Pimienta, P, Raynaud, D and Korotkevich, YS 1991 CO2-climate relationship as deduced from the Vostok ice core: a re-evaluation based on new measurements and on a re-evaluation of the air dating. Tellus 43B: 83–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Belanger, PE, Curry, WB and Matthews, RK 1981 Core-top evaluation of benthic foraminiferal isotopic ratios for paleooceanographic interpretations. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 33: 205–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berger, A 1978 Long-term variation of caloric insolation resulting from the Earth’s orbital elements. Quaternary Research 9: 139–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Boyle, E 1990 Effect of depleted planktonic 13C/12C on bottom water during periods of enhanced relative Antarctic productivity. EOS 71: 1357–1358.Google Scholar
  9. Boyle, E 1991 Quaternary ocean paleochemistry. In US National Report to International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics 19871990: 634–638.Google Scholar
  10. Boyle, E and Keigwin, L 1987 North Atlantic thermohaline circulation during the past 20,000 years linked to high-latitude surface temperature. Nature 330: 35–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Broecker, WS 1984 Terminations. In Berger, AL, Imbrie, J, Hays, J, Kukla, G and Saltzman, B, eds, Milankovitch and Climate. Dordrecht, The Netherlands, Reidel: 687–698.Google Scholar
  12. Broecker, WS 1990 Salinity history of the northern Atlantic during the last deglaciation. Paleoceanography 5: 459–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Broecker, WS, Bond, G, Klas, M, Bonani, G and Wölfli, W 1990a A salt oscillator in the glacial Atlantic?, 1, The concept. Paleoceanography 5: 469–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Broecker, WS and Denton, GG 1989 The role of the ocean-atmosphere reorganizations in glacial cycles. Geochimica et Cosmochintica Acta 53: 2465–2501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Broecker, WS, Klas, M, Clark, E, Trumbore, S, Bonani, G, Wölfli, W and Ivy, S 1990b Accelerator mass spectrometric radiocarbon measurements on foraminifera shells from deep-sea cores. Radiocarbon 32 (2): 119–133.Google Scholar
  16. Broecker, WS, Peteet, D and Rind, D 1985 Does the ocean-atmosphere have more than one stable mode of operation? Nature 315: 21–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Bryan, F 1986 High-latitude salinity effects and interhemispheric thermohaline circulations. Nature 323: 301–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Carissimo, BC, Oort, AH and Vonder Haar, TH 1985 Estimating the meridional energy transports in the atmosphere and ocean. Journal of Physical Oceanography 15: 82–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Chappell, J and Polach, II 1991 Post-glacial sea-level rise from a coral record at Huon Peninsula, Papua New Guinea. Nature 349: 147–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Charles, CD and Fairbanks, RG 1990 Glacial-interglacial changes in the isotopic gradients of Southern Ocean surface water. In Bleil, U and Thiede, J, eds, The Geologic History of Polar Oceans: Arctic ins Antarctic. NATO ASI Series 308. Dordrecht, The Netherlands, Kluwer Academic Publishers: 519–538.Google Scholar
  21. Charles, CD and Fairbanks, RG (ms) North Atlantic deep water and its climate effects over the last deglaciation: Evidence from Southern Ocean isotope records. Submitted to Nature.Google Scholar
  22. CLIMAP Project Members 1981 Geological Society of America Map and Chart Series MC 36.Google Scholar
  23. Dansgaard, W, White, JW and Johnson, SL 1989 The abrupt termination of the Younger Dryas climate event. Nature 339: 532–534.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Denton, GH and Hughes, DJ 1981. The Last Great Ice Sheets. New York, WileyInterscience.Google Scholar
  25. Edwards, RL, Taylor, FW and Wasserburg, GJ 1988 Dating earthquakes with high-precision thorium-230 ages of very young corals. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 90: 371–381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Emiliani, C, Rooth, C and Stipp, JJ 1978 The late Wisconsin flood into the Gulf of Mexico. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 41: 159–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Epstein, S, Buchsbaum, R, Lowenstam, HA and Urey, IiC 1953 Revised carbonate-water isotopic temperature scale. Geologic Society of America Bulletin 64: 1315–1326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Fairbanks, RG 1989 A 17,000-year glacioeustatic sea level record: Influence of glacial melting rates on the Younger Dryas event and deep-ocean circulation. Nature 3421: 637–642.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Fairbanks, RG 1990 The age and origin of the “Younger Dryas climate event” in Greenland ice cores. Paleoceanography 5: 937–948.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fisher, D and Alt, BT 1985 A global oxygen isotope model — semi-empirical zonally averaged. Annals of Glaciology 7: 117–124.Google Scholar
  31. Gordon, A 1986 Interocean exchange of thermocline water. Journal of Geophysical Research 91: 5037–5046.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hays, JD, Imbrie, J and Shackleton, NJ 1976 Variations in the Earth’s orbit, pacemaker of the Ice Ages. Science 194: 1121–1132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Jansen, E and Veum, T 1990 Two-step deglaciation: timing and impact on North Atlantic Deep Water circulation. Nature 343: 612–616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Jones, G and Keigwin, LD 1988 Evidence from Fram strait (78°N) for early deglaciation. Nature 336: 56–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Keigwin, LD 1987 North Pacific deep water formation during the latest glaciation, Nature 330: 362–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Keigwin, LD and Jones, GA 1989 Glacial-Holocene stratigraphy, chronology, and paleoceanographic observations on some North Atlantic sediment drifts. Deep-Sea Research 36: 845–867.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kennett, JP and Shackleton, NJ 1975 Lauren-tide ice sheet meltwater recorded in Gulf of Mexico deep-sea cores. Science 188: 147–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Koerner, RM 1989 Ice core evidence for extensive melting of the Greenland ice sheet in the last interglacial. Science 244: 964–968.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Koerner, RM and Fisher, DA 1990 A record of Holocene summer climate from a Canadian high-Arctic ice core. Nature 343: 630–631.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kroopnick, P 1985 The distribution of carbon-13 in the world oceans. Deep Sea Research 32: 57–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Labracherie, M, Labeyrie, LD, Duprat, J, Pichon, J, Bard, E, Arnold, M and Duplessy, JC 1989 The last deglaciation in the Southern Ocean. Paleoceanography 4: 629–638.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lehman, SJ, Jones, GA, Keigwin, LD, Andersen, ES, Butenko, G and Ostmo, S-R 1991 Initiation of Fennoscandian ice-sheet retreat during the last deglaciation. Nature 349: 513–516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Leventer, A, Williams, DF and Kennett, JP 1982 Dynamics of the Laurentide ice sheet during the last deglaciation: evidence from the Gulf of Mexico. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 59: 11–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Levitus, S 1982 Climatological atlas of the world ocean. NOM Professional Paper 13. Washington, DC, US Government Printing Office: 173 p.Google Scholar
  45. Lorius, C, Jouzel, J, Raynaud, D, Hansen, J and Le Treut, H 1990 The ice-core record: Climate sensitivity and future greenhouse warming. Nature 347: 139–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Maier-Reimer, E and Mikolajewicz, U 1989 Experiments with an OGCM on the cause of the Younger Dryas. In AyalaCastanares, A, Wooster, W and YanezArancibia, A, eds, Oceanography 1988. Mexico, UNAM Press: 87–100.Google Scholar
  47. Manabe, S and Stouffer, RJ 1988 Two stable equilibria of a coupled ocean-atmosphere model. Journal of Climate 1: 841–866.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Milankovitch, M 1941 Canon of Insolation and the Ice Age Problem. Belgrade, Royal Serbian Academy. ( Translation, Israel Program for Scientific Translation, Jerusalem, 1969 ).Google Scholar
  49. Mix, AC and Fairbanks, RG 1985 North Atlantic surface-ocean control of Pleistocene deep-ocean circulation. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 73: 231–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Neftel, A, Oeschger, H, Staffelbach, T and Stauffer, B 1988 The CO2 record in the Byrd ice core 50,000–5,000 years BP. Nature 33: 609–611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Oerlemans, J and van der Veen, CJ 1984 Ice Sheets and Climate. Boston, D Reidel Company: 217 p.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Oppo, DW and Fairbanks, RG 1987 Variability in the deep and intermediate water circulation of the Atlantic Ocean during the past 25,000 years: Northern Hemisphere modulation of the Southern Ocean. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 86: 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Oppo, DW and Fairbanks, RG 1990 Atlantic Ocean thermohaline circulation of the last 150,000 years: Relationship to climate and atmospheric CO2. Paleoceanography 5: 277–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Paterson, WSB and Hammer, C 1987 Ice core and other glaciological data. In Ruddiman, WF and Wright, HE, eds, The Geology of North America K3, North America and Adjacent Oceans During the Last Deglaciation. The Geological Society of America: 91–109.Google Scholar
  55. Peltier, WR 1990 Glacial isostatic adjustment and relative sea level change. In Studies in Geophysics. Washington, DC, National Academy Press: 37–51.Google Scholar
  56. Prell, W 1984 Variation of monsoonal up-welling: response to changing solar radiation. In Hansen, JE and Takahashi, T, eds, Climate Processes and Climate Sensitivity. Geophysics Monographs 29, Maurice Ewing Volume 5: 48–57.Google Scholar
  57. Putnins, P 1970 The climate of Greenland. In Orvig, S, ed, Climates of Polar Regions, World Survey of Climatology. New York, Elsevier: 3–128.Google Scholar
  58. Reed, RJ and Kunkel, BA 1960 The arctic circulation in summer. Journal of Meteorology 17: 489–506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Rind, D, Peteet, D, Broecker, WS, McIntyre, A and Ruddiman, WF 1986 The impact of cold North Atlantic sea surface temperatures on climate: Implications to the Younger Dryas cooling (11–10K). Climate Dynamics 1: 3–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Rooth, C 1982 Hydrology and ocean circulation. Progress in Oceanography 1 (1): 131–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Staffelbach, T, Stauffer, B, Sigg, A and Oeschger, H 1991 CO2 measurements from polar ice cores: more data from different sites. Tellus 43B: 91–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Stauffer, B, Neftel, A, Oeschger, H and Schwander, J 1985 CO2 concentration in air extracted from Greenland ice samples. hi Greenland Ice Core: Geophysics, Geochemistry and the Environment. Geophysics Monographs 33: 85–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Stommel, H 1961 Thermohaline convection with two stable regimes of flow. Tellus 13: 224–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Stone, PH 1978 Constraints on dynamical transports of energy on a spherical planet. Dynamics of Oceans and Atmosphere 2: 123–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Stouffer, RJ, Manabe, S and Bryan, K 1989 Interhemispheric asymmetry in climate response to a gradual increase of atmospheric CO2. Nature 342: 660–662.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Stuiver, M, Kromer, B, Becker, B and Ferguson, CW 1986 Radiocarbon age calibration back to 13,300 years BP and the 14C age matching of the German oak and US bristlecone pine chronologies. In Stuiver, M and Kra, RS, eds, Proceedings of the 12th International 14C Conference. Radiocarbon 28(2B): 969–979.Google Scholar
  67. Tushingham, AM and Peltier, WR 1991 ICE-G: A new global model of late Pleistocene deglaciation based upon geophysical predictions of post-glacial relative sea level change. Journal of Geophysical Research 96: 4497–4523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Vowinckel, E and Orvig, S 1970 The climate of the North Polar Basin. In Orvig, S, ed, Climates of Polar Regions, World Survey of Climatology. New York, Elsevier: 3–128.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard G. Fairbanks
  • Christopher D. Charles
  • James D. Wright

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations