Can we use ice sheet reconstructions to constrain meltwater for deglacial simulations?
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Freshwater pulses from melting ice sheets are thought to be important for driving deglacial climate variability. This study investigates challenges in simulating and understanding deglacial climate evolution within this framework, with emphasis on uncertainties in the ocean overturning sensitivity to meltwater inputs. The response of an intermediate complexity model to a single Northern Hemisphere meltwater pulse is familiar: a weakening of the ocean overturning circulation in conjunction with an expansion of sea ice cover and a meridional temperature seesaw. Nonlinear processes are vital in shaping this response and are found to have a decisive influence when more complex scenarios with a history of pulses are involved. A meltwater history for the last deglaciation (21–9 ka) was computed from the ICE‐5G ice sheet reconstruction, and the meltwater was routed into the ocean through idealized ice sheet drainages. Forced with this meltwater history, model configurations with altered freshwater sensitivity produce a range of outcomes for the deglaciation, from those in which there is a complete collapse of the overturning circulation to those in which the overturning circulation weakens slightly. The different outcomes are interpreted in terms of the changing hysteresis behavior of the overturning circulation (i.e., non‐stationary freshwater sensitivity) as the background climate warms through the course of the deglaciation. The study illustrates that current uncertainties in model sensitivity are limiting in efforts to forward‐model deglacial climate variability. Furthermore, ice sheet reconstructions are shown to provide poor constraints on meltwater forcing for simulating the deglaciation.