Topography's crucial role in Heinrich Events

William H. G. Roberts, Paul J. Valdes, Antony J. Payne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Heinrich Events, the abrupt changes in the Laurentide Ice Sheet that cause the appearance of the well-observed Heinrich Layers, are thought to have a strong effect on the global climate. The focus of most studies that have looked at the climate’s response to these events has been the freshwater flux that results from melting icebergs. However, there is the possibility that the varying height of the ice sheet could force a change in the climate. In this study, we present results from a newly developed coupled climate/ice sheet model to show what effect this topographic change has both on its own and in concert with the flux of freshwater from melting icebergs. We show that the topographic forcing can explain a number of the climate changes that are observed during Heinrich Events, such as the warming and wettening in Florida and the warm sea surface temperatures in the central North Atlantic, which freshwater forcing alone cannot. We also find regions, for example the tropical Atlantic, where the response is a mixture of the two: Here observations may help disentangle the relative importance of each mechanism. These results suggest that the simple paradigm of a Heinrich Event causing climate change via freshwater inputs into the North Atlantic needs to be revised.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16688-16693
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number47
Early online date3 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2014
Externally publishedYes


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