Causes of ice age intensification across the mid-Pleistocene transition

Conflicting sets of hypotheses highlight either the role of ice sheets or atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) in causing the increase in duration and severity of ice age cycles ∼1 Mya during the Mid-Pleistocene Transition (MPT). We document early MPT CO2 cycles that were smaller than during recent ice age cycles. Using model simulations, we attribute this to post-MPT increase in glacial-stage dustiness and its effect on Southern Ocean productivity. Detailed analysis reveals the importance of CO2 climate forcing as a powerful positive feedback that magnified MPT climate change originally triggered by a change in ice sheet dynamics. These findings offer insights into the close coupling of climate, oceans, and ice sheets within the Earth System.

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