Milutin Milankovitch

Using these three orbital variations, Milankovitch was able to formulate a comprehensive mathematical model that calculated latitudinal differences in insolation and the corresponding surface temperature for 600,000 years prior to the year 1800. He then attempted to correlate these changes with the growth and retreat of the Ice Ages. To do this, Milankovitch assumed that radiation changes in some latitudes and seasons are more important to ice sheet growth and decay than those in others. Then, at the suggestion of German Climatologist Vladimir Koppen, he chose summer insolation at 65 degrees North as the most important latitude and season to model, reasoning that great ice sheets grew near this latitude and that cooler summers might reduce summer snowmelt, leading to a positive annual snow budget and ice sheet growth.

calculated orbital variation

But, for about 50 years, Milankovitch's theory was largely ignored. Then, in 1976, a study published in the journal Science examined deep-sea sediment cores and found that Milankovitch's theory did in fact correspond to periods of climate change (Hays et al. 1976). Specifically, the authors were able to extract the record of temperature change going back 450,000 years and found that major variations in climate were closely associated with changes in the geometry (eccentricity, obliquity, and precession) of Earth's orbit. Indeed, ice ages had occurred when the Earth was going through different stages of orbital variation.

Since this study, the National Research Council of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has embraced the Milankovitch Cycle model.

    ...orbital variations remain the most thoroughly examined mechanism of climatic change on time scales of tens of thousands of years and are by far the clearest case of a direct effect of changing insolation on the lower atmosphere of Earth (National Research Council, 1982).

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On the Shoulders of Giants
Milutin Milankovitch
Orbital Variations
Milankovitch Theory
Links and References

Left: These graphs show calculated values for 300,000 years of orbital variation. The line labeled "0" represents today, while "-200" indicates 200,000 years in the past and "100" indicates 100,000 years from now. Milankovitch noticed that these cycles of orbital mechanics correspond to many indicators of past climate change, such as Ice Ages. (From Berger and Loutre, 1991)

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