Sensitivity of present-day climate to astronomical forcing

  • Ch. Tricot
  • A. Berger
Modelling Studies
Part of the Lecture Notes in Earth Sciences book series (LNEARTH, volume 16)


According to the astronomical theory of paleoclimates, the long-term variation in the geometry of the Earth's orbit is the fundamental cause of the succession of Pleistocene ice ages. Accurate values for the variations of these orbital element and related monthly insolations are now available for the last 2 to 3 million years. Even if recent climatic models, both qualitative and quantitative, show that the orbital parameters have modulated the climate during the whole Quaternary (and will probably continue to do so assuming no human interferences), the exact mechanisms which link insolation variations to climate variations at the astronomical frequencies are not yet totally known. Both simple models, which would reproduce the dynamic behaviour of climatic changes through time, and more sophisticated models which allow, in particular, to test the validity of the first for selected dates, must be developed further.

In this paper, an analysis of the impacts of the insolation forcing on the insolation available at the Earth's surface has been made by comparing, in the time and frequency domains, variations of the extraterrestrial radiation to variations of the incident and absorbed radiations at the Earth's surface. Considering the potential importance of the insolation during summer (which could prevent or allow snow melting), results for July for northern hemisphere and January for southern hemisphere have been stressed. The atmospheric attenuation essentially reduces the absolute variations of the incident solar radiation at the Earth's surface as compared to the variations of the extraterrestrial radiation. Over the last 200 kry, these two kinds of insolation generally present maximal variations in high latitudes in relation with the variation of the obliquity. On the contrary, the absorbed radiation at the Earth's surface has always maximal variations in tropical and middle latitudes related to the increase of the surface albedo with latitude.

Finally, in the summer hemisphere, the large-scale gradient of insolation between the tropics and the polar regions shows deviations from its present-day value which characteristic frequencies depend upon the type of insolation considered : (i) for the extraterrestrial insolation, the main frequency of the variations of the large-scale latitudinal gradient is about 40 kyrs, whereas (ii) for the incident and mainly the absorbed insolation at the surface the large-scale gradient shows, in addition, quasi-periodicity of about 23 kyrs; this difference is related to the atmospheric attenuation which reduces more strongly the variations of insolation at the surface in high latitudes than in tropics.


Zenith Angle Optical Thickness Surface Albedo Incident Solar Radiation Atmospheric Attenuation 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ch. Tricot
    • 1
  • A. Berger
    • 1
  1. 1.Institut d'Astronomie et de Géophysique G. LemaîtreUniversité Catholique de LouvainLouvain-la-Neuve

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