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At least two modes of glacial-interglacial climate change have existed within the tropical Atlantic Ocean during the last 20,000 years. The first mode (defined by cold glacial and warm interglacial conditions) occurred symmetrically north and south of the equator and dominated the eastern boundary currents and tropical upwelling areas. This pattern suggests that mode 1 is driven by a glacial modification of surface winds in both hemispheres. The second mode of oceanic climate change, defined by temperature extremes centered on the deglaciation, was hemispherically asymmetrical, with the northern tropical Atlantic relatively cold and the southern tropical Atlantic relatively warm during deglaciation. A likely cause for this pattern of variation is a reduction of the presently northward cross-equatorial heat flux during deglaciation. No single mechanism accounts for all the data. Potential contributors to oceanic climate changes are linkage to high-latitude climates, modification of monsoonal winds by ice sheet and/or insolation changes, atmospheric CO2 and greenhouse effects, indirect effects of glacial meltwater, and variations in thermohaline overturn of the oceans.