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Ice ages and the thermal equilibrium of the earth, II

January 1, 1975

The energy required to sustain midlatitude continental glaciations comes from solar radiation absorbed by the oceans. It is made available through changes in relative amounts of energy lost from the sea surface as net outgoing infrared radiation, sensible heat loss, and latent heat loss. Ice sheets form in response to the initial occurrence of a large perennial snowfield in the subarctic. When such a snowfield forms, it undergoes a drastic reduction in absorbed solar energy because of its high albedo. When the absorbed solar energy cannot supply local infrared radiation losses, the snowfield cools, thus increasing the energy gradient between itself and external, warmer areas that can act as energy sources. Cooling of the snowfield progresses until the energy gradients between the snowfield and external heat sources are sufficient to bring in enough (latent plus sensible) energy to balance the energy budget over the snowfield. Much of the energy is imported as latent heat. The snow that falls and nourishes the ice sheet is a by-product of the process used to satisfy the energy balance requirements of the snowfield. The oceans are the primary energy source for the ice sheet because only the ocean can supply large amounts of latent heat. At first, some of the energy extracted by the ice sheet from the ocean is stored heat, so the ocean cools. As it cools, less energy is lost as net outgoing infrared radiation, and the energy thus saved is then available to augment evaporation. The ratio between sensible and latent heat lost by the ocean is the Bowen ratio; it depends in part on the sea surface temperature. As the sea surface temperature falls during a glaciation, the Bowen ratio increases, until most of the available energy leaves the oceans as sensible, rather than latent heat. The ice sheet starves, and an interglacial period begins. The oscillations between stadial and interstadial intervals within a glaciation are caused by the effects of varying amounts of glacial meltwater entering the oceans as a surface layer that acts to reduce the amount of energy available for glacial nourishment. This causes the ice sheet to melt back, which continues the supply of meltwater until the ice sheet diminishes to a size consistent with the reduced rate of nourishment. The meltwater supply then decreases, the rate of nourishment increases, and a new stadial begins.

Publication Year 1975
Title Ice ages and the thermal equilibrium of the earth, II
DOI 10.1016/0033-5894(75)90021-6
Authors D.P. Adam
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Quaternary Research
Index ID 70009921
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse