Journal cover Journal topic
Climate of the Past An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Clim. Past, 8, 251-264, 2012
© Author(s) 2012. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
09 Feb 2012
Glacial CO2 cycle as a succession of key physical and biogeochemical processes
V. Brovkin1,*, A. Ganopolski2, D. Archer3, and G. Munhoven4 1Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Bundesstr. 53, 20146, Hamburg, Germany
2Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Telegraphenberg A31, 14473 Potsdam, Germany
3Department of the Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago, 5734 S Ellis Ave, Chicago, IL 60637, USA
4Institute of Astrophysics and Geophysics, University of Liège, 4000 Liège, Belgium
*also at: Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany
Abstract. During glacial-interglacial cycles, atmospheric CO2 concentration varied by about 100 ppmv in amplitude. While testing mechanisms that have led to the low glacial CO2 level could be done in equilibrium model experiments, an ultimate goal is to explain CO2 changes in transient simulations through the complete glacial-interglacial cycle. The computationally efficient Earth System model of intermediate complexity CLIMBER-2 is used to simulate global biogeochemistry over the last glacial cycle (126 kyr). The physical core of the model (atmosphere, ocean, land and ice sheets) is driven by orbital changes and reconstructed radiative forcing from greenhouses gases, ice, and aeolian dust. The carbon cycle model is able to reproduce the main features of the CO2 changes: a 50 ppmv CO2 drop during glacial inception, a minimum concentration at the last glacial maximum 80 ppmv lower than the Holocene value, and an abrupt 60 ppmv CO2 rise during the deglaciation. The model deep ocean δ13C also resembles reconstructions from deep-sea cores. The main drivers of atmospheric CO2 evolve in time: changes in sea surface temperatures and in the volume of bottom water of southern origin control atmospheric CO2 during the glacial inception and deglaciation; changes in carbonate chemistry and marine biology are dominant during the first and second parts of the glacial cycle, respectively. These feedback mechanisms could also significantly impact the ultimate climate response to the anthropogenic perturbation.

Citation: Brovkin, V., Ganopolski, A., Archer, D., and Munhoven, G.: Glacial CO2 cycle as a succession of key physical and biogeochemical processes, Clim. Past, 8, 251-264,, 2012.
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