Signs of Unsteady Climate Appear in Ice

By Monastersky, Richard | Science News, June 3, 1995 | Go to article overview

Signs of Unsteady Climate Appear in Ice


Monastersky, Richard, Science News


Geoscientists have discovered evidence of a widespread cooling 8,200 years ago that raises questions about the stability of the modern climate.

Researchers have usually considered the current geologic time period, the Holocene epoch, immune to the wild temperature shifts of the last ice age, which ended 10,000 years ago. In theory, the giant glacial sheets on North America and Europe during the ice age destabilized the climate; once the ice melted, the climate calmed down.

New findings culled from a borehole in central Greenland now challenge that idea. At a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Baltimore this week, Richard B. Alley of Pennsylvania State University in University Park and his colleagues reported that the climate of the northern latitudes, and possibly much of the globe, cooled markedly 8,200 years ago, after the ice sheets had retreated. "What this means is we have an event here that we cannot blame on the ice sheets," says Alley.

The researchers discovered signs of the cooling preserved within Greenland's thick ice sheet, a remnant of the giant glacial blankets that existed during the ice age. A U.S. team known as the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 (GISP 2) drilled through the 3-kilometer-thick covering during the early 1990s. The ice cores from that hole have provided a climate record of the last 100,000 years.

Measurements of oxygen isotopes in the GISP 2 ice indicate that the temperature at the summit of Greenland dropped 4oC for a century--a relatively short, but intense, climate shift, says Alley. …

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Signs of Unsteady Climate Appear in Ice
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