Dust sources and deposition during the last glacial maximum and current climate: A comparison of model results with paleodata from ice cores and marine sediments


  • Natalie Mahowald,

  • Karen Kohfeld,

  • Margaret Hansson,

  • Yves Balkanski,

  • Sandy P. Harrison,

  • I. Colin Prentice,

  • Michael Schulz,

  • Henning Rodhe


Mineral dust aerosols in the atmosphere have the potential to affect the global climate by influencing the radiative balance of the atmosphere and the supply of micronutrients to the ocean. Ice and marine sediment cores indicate that dust deposition from the atmosphere was at some locations 2–20 times greater during glacial periods, raising the possibility that mineral aerosols might have contributed to climate change on glacial-interglacial time scales. To address this question, we have used linked terrestrial biosphere, dust source, and atmospheric transport models to simulate the dust cycle in the atmosphere for current and last glacial maximum (LGM) climates. We obtain a 2.5-fold higher dust loading in the entire atmosphere and a twenty-fold higher loading in high latitudes, in LGM relative to present. Comparisons to a compilation of atmospheric dust deposition flux estimates for LGM and present in marine sediment and ice cores show that the simulated flux ratios are broadly in agreement with observations; differences suggest where further improvements in the simple dust model could be made. The simulated increase in high-latitude dustiness depends on the expansion of unvegetated areas, especially in the high latitudes and in central Asia, caused by a combination of increased aridity and low atmospheric [CO2]. The existence of these dust source areas at the LGM is supported by pollen data and loess distribution in the northern continents. These results point to a role for vegetation feedbacks, including climate effects and physiological effects of low [CO2], in modulating the atmospheric distribution of dust.