Not by Fire but by Ice


Discover What Killed the Dinosaurs . . . and Why it Could Soon Kill Us


New geologic evidence of past periods of oscillating,
 abrupt warming, and cooling

By Don Easterbrook

page delimiter

10 Nov 09 - Two hundred years ago, Charles Lyell coined the phrase “The present is the key to the past.” In today’s highly contentious issues of global climate change, we might well add “The past is the key to the future, i.e., to forecast future geologic events, we must understand past climate changes.  This paper documents past global climate changes in the geologic and historic past.

Recent laser imaging of the Earth’s surface provides new evidence for abrupt, fluctuating, warm and cool climatic episodes that could not have been caused by changes in atmospheric CO2.  In a paper presented at the national meeting of the Geological Society of America in Portland, OR, Professor Don J. Easterbrook, Professor of Geology at Western Washington University, presented new data from airborne laser imagery showing well-defined, previously unknown, multiple moraines deposited by glaciers 11,700 to 10,250 years ago. 

At least 9 significant, abrupt periods of warming that resulted in retreat of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet are documented by moraines from successive glacial retreats in the Fraser Lowland of NW Washington l(Fig. 1).  In addition, smaller multiple glacier recessions are found within the more prominent episodes of glacier retreat.  As indicated by the amount of glacier recession between each of the successive moraines, the warming events were of greater magnitude than those observed in recent centuries.


             Figure 1.  Successive terminal moraines from short–term glacier
                            recessions caused by climatic warming between 11,700
                            and 10,250 years ago.

     Isotope data from Greenland ice cores and show a consistent pattern of fluctuating warm and cool periods over the past 500 years (Fig. 2).  The average period of warming/cooling oscillations over the past 500 years is 27 years, remarkably similar to the period of alternation between warm and cool Pacific Decadal Oscillation. 

        Figure 2.  Paleotemperatures derived from oxygen isotope measurements of the
                            GISP2 Greenland ice core.  Red peaks are times of warming and blue
                            are times of cooling.  The average time period for each climatic
                            oscillation is 27 years. 

During the past century, two episodes of global warming and two of global cooling have occurred (Fig. 3), all of which can be tied to glacial oscillations, oceanic temperature changes, atmospheric temperature changes, and solar variation.

       Figure 3.  Coincidence of Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), global temperature,
                      and glacier fluctuations in the North Cascades.  Glaciers advanced during
                      the 1880–1915 cool period when the PDO was cool, then when the PDO
                      switched to its warm mode, global temperatures warmed, and glaciers
                      retreated from ~1915–1945.  The PDO changed from warm to cool ~1945–
                      1977, global temperatures cooled and glaciers advanced once again.  In
                      1977, the PDO switched from cool to warm mode, global temperatures
                      warmed, and glaciers retreated.  In 1999, the PDO changed back to its
                      cool mode and global cooling began.

What we can learn from this geologic climate changes is that the past is indeed the key to the future.  In 1999, the year after the warmest year of recent times, I projected the climate pattern from the past century and past 500 years into the future and predicted that we would be due for 25–30 years of global cooling beginning about 2000.  The PDO changed from its warm to cool mode in 1999 and since then we have had global cooling, quite moderate to flat (interrupted by two warm El Ninos) and intensifying since 2007.

                Figure 4.  Projection of climate changes of the last century and past 500 years
                               into the future.  The black curve is temperature variation from 1900 to
                               2009; the red line is the IPCC projected warming from the IPCC
                               website in 2000; the blue curves are several possible projections of
                               climate change to 2040+ based on past global cooling periods (1945-
                               1977; 1880 to 1915; and 1790 to 1820).  The lack of sun spots during
                                the past solar cycle has surpassed all records since the Dalton
                                Minimum and some solar physicists have suggested we may be
                                headed for a Dalton or Maunder type mimimum with severe cooling.

Abstract of paper presented to Geological Society of America, Oct. 19, 2009


EASTERBROOK, Don J., Dept. of Geology, Western Washington Univ, Bellingham, WA 98225,

Lidar imagery of the southern part of the Fraser Lowland in WA reveals previously unknown, multiple, latest Pleistocene (Sumas Stade) end moraines overlying Everson glaciomarine drift (gmd). Multiple marine shorelines extend from about 540’ to about 100’above present sea level and are truncated by two of the oldest Sumas end moraines. These moraines are younger than the underlying Everson gmd, which is well dated at 11,700 14C yrs. B.P., and older than 11,400 14C yrs. B.P. basal bog dates behind the moraines. Recession of the ice from the outermost moraines was followed by building of at least nine end moraines, some of which clearly represent glacial readvances. Basal bog dates from a kettle in outwash from the youngest Sumas moraine has been dated at 10,250 14C yrs. B.P.

Isotope data from Greenland ice cores and historic atmospheric and oceanic temperature records show a consistent pattern of fluctuating 25-30–year warm and cool periods over the past 500 years. During the past century, five of these climate fluctuations can be tied to glacial oscillations, oceanic temperature changes, atmospheric temperature changes, and solar variation.

The question is—what drives these oscillations? The older fluctuations can be linked to changes in 14C and 10Be isotope production rates in the upper atmosphere, suggesting variation in cosmogenic radiation. Historic climatic and oceanic temperature fluctuations are associated with solar variations. The excellent correlation of glacial, climatic, oceanic, and solar variation strongly suggests cause and effect relationships. Past patterns of these variations allow projection into the future.

Expanded abstract and slides available for viewing at
2009 Portland GSA Annual Meeting (18-21 October 2009)






Order Book I Q & A I Book Reviews I Plant Hardiness Zone Maps I Radio Interviews I Table of Contents I Excerpts I Author Photo I Pacemaker of the Ice Ages I Extent of Previous Glaciation I Crane Buried in Antarctic Ice Sheet I Ice Ages and Magnetic Reversals I It's Ocean Warming I E-Mail Robert at l Expanding Glaciers