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Climates of the Earth and cryosphere evolution
Ramstein, G. (2011). Climates of the Earth and cryosphere evolution. Surveys in Geophysics 32(4-5): 329-350.
In: Surveys in Geophysics. Kluwer Academic Publishers: Dordrecht; Tokyo; Lancaster; Boston. ISSN 0169-3298, more
Peer reviewed article  

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Author keywords
    Paleoclimate; Thermal regulation; Onset of ice sheets; Climate/cryosphere modelling

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  • Ramstein, G.

    The interrelationship between the cryosphere and the climate is not always operating on Earth over a scale of billions or millions of years. Indeed, most of the time, the Earth is regulated at temperatures such that no ice sheet exists. Nevertheless, it is very fruitful to understand the conditions where and when ice sheets were triggered during the Earth’s history. This paper deals with the paleoclimate and the cryosphere in the last 4.6 Ga and explains the different processes that make the climate of the first 4 billion years warm despite the weaker solar luminosity. We also describe the more recent evolution in the last 65 million years when a global decrease in atmospheric CO2 from around 4 PAL to 1 PAL was associated with a global cooling (1 PAL present atmospheric level = 280 ppm). It is in this context that the Quaternary occurred characterized by low atmospheric CO2 and the presence of two perennial ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. The last million years are certainly the most documented since direct and reliable CO2 measurements are available. They are characterized by a complex climate/cryosphere dynamics leading to oscillations between long glacial periods with four ice sheets and shorter ones with only two ice sheets (interglacial). We are currently living in one of those interglacials, generally associated with a CO2 level of 280 ppm. Presently, anthropogenic activities are seriously perturbing the carbon cycle and the atmospheric CO2 content and therefore the climate. The last but not least question raised in this paper is to investigate whether the anthropogenic perturbation may lead to a melting of the ice sheets.

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