Dr. Steve Hovan, Department of Geoscience, and colleagues recently published an article showing evidence of orbital-scale forcing of climate records found in the ancient sediments of the Pacific Ocean around 55 million years ago.
The accumulation of wind blown (eolian) dust in deep-sea sediments reflects the aridity/humidity conditions of the continental region supplying the dust, as well as the “gustiness” of the climate system. Detailed studies of Pleistocene glacial-interglacial dust fluxes suggest changes in accumulation rates corresponding to orbital variations in solar insolation (Milankovitch cycles). While the orbital cycles found in sedimentary archives of the Pleistocene are intricately related to glacial growth and decay, similar global orbital signals recognized in deep-sea sediments of early Paleogene age, the last major greenhouse interval, 65–45 million years ago, could not have been linked to the waxing and waning of large ice sheets. Thus, orbital signals recorded in early Paleogene sediments must reflect some other climate response to changes in solar insolation.
To explore the potential connection between orbital forcing and the climate processes that control dust accumulation, we generated a high-resolution dust record for ∼58 Myr old sediments from Shatsky Rise (ODP Site 1209, paleolatitude ∼15°N–20°N). The dust accumulation data provide the first evidence of a correlation between dust flux to the deep sea and orbital cyclicity during the early Paleogene, indicating dust supply responded to insolation forcing during the last major interval of greenhouse climate. Furthermore, the relative amplitude of the dust flux response during the early Paleogene greenhouse was comparable to that during icehouse climates. Thus, subtle variations in solar insolation driven by changes in Earth’s orbit about the Sun may have had a similar impact on climate during intervals of overall warmth as they did during glacial-interglacial states.
Woodard, S. C., D. J. Thomas, S. Hovan, U. Röhl, and T. Westerhold (2011), Evidence for orbital forcing of dust accumulation during the early Paleogene greenhouse, Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst., 12, Q02007, doi:10.1029/2010GC003394.