A potential feedback loop underlying glacial-interglacial cycles

Els Weinans*, Anne Willem Omta, George A.K. van Voorn, Egbert H. van Nes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The sawtooth-patterned glacial-interglacial cycles in the Earth’s atmospheric temperature are a well-known, though poorly understood phenomenon. Pinpointing the relevant mechanisms behind these cycles will not only provide insights into past climate dynamics, but also help predict possible future responses of the Earth system to changing CO2 levels. Previous work on this phenomenon suggests that the most important underlying mechanisms are interactions between marine biological production, ocean circulation, temperature and dust. So far, interaction directions (i.e., what causes what) have remained elusive. In this paper, we apply Convergent Cross-Mapping (CCM) to analyze paleoclimatic and paleoceanographic records to elucidate which mechanisms proposed in the literature play an important role in glacial-interglacial cycles, and to test the directionality of interactions. We find causal links between ocean ventilation, biological productivity, benthic δ18O and dust, consistent with some but not all of the mechanisms proposed in the literature. Most importantly, we find evidence for a potential feedback loop from ocean ventilation to biological productivity to climate back to ocean ventilation. Here, we propose the hypothesis that this feedback loop of connected mechanisms could be the main driver for the glacial-interglacial cycles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)523-535
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number1-2
Early online date18 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Carbon cycle
  • Causality
  • CCM
  • Ice age cycles


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