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Journal of Creation 35(3):97–102, December 2021

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Ice core oscillations and abrupt climate changes: part 4—abrupt changes better explained by the Ice Age


Uniformitarian scientists do not really know the cause of the millennial scale fluctuations. The millennial scale deuterium isotope oscillations in the Antarctic ice cores, Antarctic Isotope Maxima (AIMs), are much weaker than the Dansgaard-Oeschger (D-O) events in the Greenland ice cores. Scientists suggest millennial changes are caused by changes in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), although the adequacy of this hypothesis is questionable. Just like with the large deuterium isotope oscillations in the lower 1,500 m of the East Antarctic ice cores, millennial scale oscillations can be explained as climate changes caused by shorter scale oscillations (on the order of decades) in volcanism in the Creation/Flood/Ice Age model. The fluctuations of other variables can also be explained by this mechanism. This difference between hemispheres can be explained by different volcanic scenarios between the hemispheres. The paradigm shift in glaciology to abrupt climate changes has fuelled the global warming scare. However, these abrupt changes occurred during the Ice Age portion of the ice cores and so do not apply to today.

In part 3,1 I showed how the large-scale isotope oscillations in the Greenland, West Antarctic, and East Antarctic ice cores can be explained within the biblical Ice Age model. The bottom 1,500 m of the East Antarctic ice cores can be explained by rapid build-up of ice within about 200 years after the Flood. This part delves into the presumed millennial-scale ice core oscillations in the Ice Age portion of the Greenland and West Antarctica ice cores, and the top half of the East Antarctic ice cores.

Abrupt climate changes a uniformitarian mystery

Image: William M. Connolley / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (GFDL with disclaimers)The NorthGRIP, Greenland, and Dome C, East Antarctica
Figure 1. The NorthGRIP, Greenland, and Dome C, East Antarctica, millennial isotope oscillations showing the abrupt changes in oxygen isotope ratio for Greenland but not for East Antarctica.

Dansgaard-Oeschger (D-O) events are claimed to be abrupt climate changes of about 10–20°C, based on the oxygen isotope ratios in Greenland ice cores. These 25 ‘millennial-scale’ fluctuations during the last uniformitarian ice age supposedly initiated in about a decade and remained in that new climate state for about 1,470 years, before changing back (figure 1). Understandably, the meaning of D-O events in the Greenland ice cores (see part 12) is unknown: “The significance of Dansgaard-Oeschger (DO) events, observed in the Greenland cores, is debated.”3 These events are truly a radical climate change, and there is much speculation as to their cause:

“The demonstration that natural climate variability during the last glacial cycle shifted rapidly between remarkable extremes has dramatically revised the understanding of climate change.”4

Vettoretti and Peltier acknowledge this major problem: “One of the most enigmatic and energetically debated problems in paleoclimate research continues to involve the development of a consensus theoretical understanding of the mechanisms that underlie the millennium time-scale oscillations of glacial North Atlantic climate.”5

Sarnthein et al. admit: “The origin of major rapid, decadal climate change during the latest Quaternary remains an enigma.”6

GISP2 ice core
Figure 2. One abrupt climate change showing how many other variables are correlated to the oxygen isotope ratios in the GISP2 ice core from central Greenland (from Smith et al., 1997, p. 26579)

Many other variables are correlated with the oxygen isotope ratios. One of these is carbon dioxide in the gas bubbles within the ice, which is roughly correlated with δ18O in Greenland ice cores (figure 2). However, we must be careful correlating CO2 between various ice cores and between Antarctic and Greenland ice cores at the supposed same times.7 These are differences in the amount of CO2 probably because of chemical changes with dust and the addition of CO2 in melt layers. But the abrupt changes in CO2 present a major uniformitarian problem: “… thus, the dilemma of the fast CO2 variations during the glaciation discussed by Oeschger et al. [1998] remains.”7

Ever since D-O events were inferred, climate models have attempted to duplicate them with little or no success.8 These models even have high resolution atmospheric, oceanic, and ice sub-models. For instance, Drijfhout et al. did not apply any external forcing but attempted to obtain D-O events by an atmospheric blocking pattern that increases North Atlantic sea ice and changing the three-dimensional ocean circulation. A blocking pattern is one in which a particular configuration of the atmospheric circulations remains stationary for a while. Drijfhout et al. only obtained cooling similar to the Little Ice Age9,10 between about AD 1400 and 1850, of 0.8°C for 100 years. Unfortunately, atmospheric blocking patterns today usually last a week, but in some situations can last longer.11 So, a blocking pattern in the North Atlantic does not seem like a good trigger for even a 100-year cooling from the average, not to mention one about 1,500 years long.

It is possible that the abrupt changes in the oxygen isotope ratios do not totally represent temperature change, since there are many other variables that change the oxygen isotope ratio. Carl Wunsch, an atmospheric scientist from MIT, believes that such high amplitude millennial oscillations in the Greenland ice cores may not represent huge temperature changes, but could be caused by wind trajectory shifts, which can substantially change the oxygen isotope ratio.16 So, maybe the temperature changes in the Greenland ice cores are not that drastic. To address the possibility that the oxygen isotope ratios do not entirely reflect temperature changes, glaciologists analyzed other paleothermometers, the nitrogen isotope ratio, δ15N, and the argon isotope ratio, δ40Ar, in the air bubbles.12 The researchers discovered that the temperature change was twice as much as indicated by oxygen isotope ratios, at least for some D-O events!

Weak and few D-O events in Antarctica

‘Abrupt’ climate changes are also claimed in the Antarctic ice cores, but they are much different than those in Greenland (figure 1). The West Antarctic millennial scale oscillations are similar to those in the East Antarctic ice cores above 1,500 m. However, the Antarctic oscillations are weak.13 Whereas Greenland ice cores show 25 D-O events between 20 and 105 ka, the Antarctic ice cores show much fewer, about 7–9, with the inferred temperature change of only about 2°C.14,15 Wunsch finds about seven Antarctic Isotope Maxima (AIMs) in the Byrd core.16 Moreover, these AIMs show decreasing deuterium isotope oscillations going up the core, probably reflecting a general cooling trend due to the increasing height of the Antarctic Ice Sheets.

The wiggles in the Antarctic ice cores are not correlated well with the D-O events in the Greenland cores.17 However, this has not stopped researchers from trying to correlate these wiggles between Greenland and Antarctica (see part 2,18 figure 7). Researchers have a tendency to correlate oscillating variables, even when no relationship actually exists.19,20 So, stretching out the timescale of the Antarctic ice cores, they obtained more little wiggles, probably representing a temperature change of 1°C or less. So, the uniformitarian scientists were able to ‘find’ more slight oscillations to correlate with Greenland.21

The AIMs are of opposite temperature of the D-O events, based on methane correlations. When a D-O event in Greenland cools drastically, the temperature is believed to warm a little in Antarctica, and vice versa. Even the last fluctuation at the top of the ‘last ice age’ in Antarctic ice cores, called the Antarctic Cold Reversal (ACR),22 is much weaker than the corresponding Younger Dryas in the Greenland ice cores. The fluctuations are also out of phase.23 In referring to the ACR, Stanley writes: “Researchers must now find an explanation for the unusual asynchronicity during the Younger Dryas.”24

The changes in temperature are also not abrupt in Antarctica; the change occurs slowly. Just as there is a lack of a uniformitarian mechanism to explain Northern Hemisphere D-O events, there is a lack of a mechanism to produce AIMs.

This asynchrony of the abrupt oscillations in the hemispheres has given rise to the idea of the bipolar see-saw that connects D-O events in the North Atlantic to AIMs in Antarctica. The scientists believe the connection is caused by an interhemispheric redistribution of heat by the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). However, there are major questions about the adequacy of this mechanism as well as what causes D-O events, and models fail to explain them.25,26

Slowing or stopping AMOC?

The most popular hypothesis that would cause D-O and Heinrich events is the stopping or slowing of the three-dimensional Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). Heinrich events are warmer climatic events causing ice rafted debris observed in marine deep-sea cores of the North Atlantic Ocean. They are believed to be caused by an armada of icebergs that broke from the Laurentide Ice Sheet every 7 to 15 ka. In AMOC, warm water is transported from the tropics northward to Greenland and northern Europe. The Gulf Stream current off the eastern United States is part of this poleward warm ocean water transport. The warm water warms the air while the ocean water cools. The water in the northern North Atlantic cools so much and evaporates so much water into the atmosphere that it becomes saltier and denser. It then sinks and flows south in the deep ocean, all the way to the South Atlantic Ocean. Branches flow slowly west into the deep Pacific Ocean and east into the Indian Ocean. This is also referred to as the ‘conveyor belt’. The deep water is believed to upwell close to Antarctica, and since the water is supposed to be cooler, Antarctica cools while Greenland warms.

To reverse the temperature changes, scientists believe that the warm North Atlantic current slows down or completely stops. Without a warm current from the south, the atmosphere of the North Atlantic cools.27 The ocean water is not cooled and the flow of AMOC slows or fails to spread any cooler water into the Southern Hemisphere. Thus, Antarctica is supposed to warm while Greenland cools.

The idea sounds good in theory, but it has major flaws. First, what would cause the AMOC to slow or stop? One idea is if abundant fresh water from either melting sea ice or intense continental runoff from warmer temperatures in the warm phase flowed into the ocean. The less dense fresh water would tend to float on the dense salt water for a while, but it would gradually mix with time. The quantitative adequacy of this mechanism has not been worked out.

A second problem is that the cooler deep water may not be able to reach Antarctica because the Antarctic Circumpolar Current that flows around the continent may be a barrier for any transport from the north by AMOC.28,29 So, the AMOC mechanism remains speculative: “Despite dedicated efforts to pin down the AMOC hypothesis, there are still unresolved issues.”30

Decadal volcanic fluctuations explain ‘millennial scale’ oscillations

I have suggested several times in the past that the cause of such drastic oxygen isotope changes was caused by decadal changes in volcanic aerosol loading in the stratosphere. A decadal timescale means that the oscillations can vary from a few years to several tens of years, based on high ice accumulations rates early in ice buildup. The decadal scale peaks and lulls are superimposed on a general decrease in volcanism with time (figure 3).31,32 I suggested that such decadal changes caused the ‘glacial/interglacial oscillations’ in the bottom 1,500 m of the East Antarctic ice cores (see part 3).1

Postulated Ice Age volcanism
Figure 3. Postulated Ice Age volcanism with peaks and lulls in general decreasing activity with time to glacial maximum.49

When analyzing the heat balance equations for the ocean and atmosphere, I discovered that the amount of volcanic ash and aerosols in the upper atmosphere controlled the rate of ice sheet growth. During periods of strong volcanism, colder temperatures occur with greater snowfall. The colder temperatures result in lower oxygen isotope ratios. The opposite occurs in volcanic lulls:

“In other words, during periods of strong volcanism and reflection of solar radiation back to space, the cooling, over land, would be more intense. This in turn would cause colder, drier air to blow out over the warm ocean. As a result, ocean cooling would be more rapid, and the amount of moisture evaporated into the air would be higher. Consequently, the ice sheet would grow rapidly, with higher volcanism. Conversely, they [the ice sheets] would develop more slowly, or even melt back at the margins, during volcanic lulls.”33

In the Creation/Flood/Ice Age model, the annual layer thickness before compression could have roughly been around 4–6 m/yr on Greenland (see part 1).2 The D-O events are spaced about 50 m apart, which would be on a decadal timescale in the biblical model. On Antarctica, the 7–9 AIMs would have formed by the same volcanic mechanism over an interval of 1,200 m for an average of about 150 m per oscillation. This is also on a roughly decadal timescale with an accumulation rate of about 10 m/yr (see part 3).1 The differences in the ‘abrupt changes’ between ice cores on Greenland and Antarctica can be accounted for by differences in volcanism between the Northern and Southern Hemisphere.34

Volcanic events also increase the wind and dust, which add iron to the upper layers of the ocean.1 The wind and iron fertilization can cause lower atmospheric carbon dioxide, an increase in calcium and sodium, and a decrease in methane. Methane increases about 200 ppbv in ice cores during warm interstadials and decreases during cold stadials of the D-O oscillations.35 Thus, the other variables that are correlated with changes in oxygen isotope ratios can also be explained by volcanism.

Secular scientists also suggest millennial-scale oscillations due to volcanism

Some secular scientists also propose that the D-O events could be caused by volcanism.36 They correlated eight Tambora- sized eruptions to the D-O stadials. Baldini and others later suggested that the YD cold event was caused by the Laacher See volcanic eruption in Germany at about 12,800 BP.37 However, Kletetschka et al. don’t think this eruption was significant; besides, they claimed it may have erupted before the YD. This belief presupposes that the timescales for the ice cores and other climate data sets are precise, but this is dubious.

Others have suggested positive feedback mechanisms, such as increasing sea ice, reinforced the volcanism to cause uniformitarian millennial scale cooling.38 However, there was no global cooling shown in the ice cores after several other large eruptions.36 Other researchers discovered that volcanic ash layers in the Siple Dome ice core on Antarctica correlated with the onset of the millennial scale cooling recorded in the Greenland ice cores.39

It is difficult to understand how volcanism could cause temperature changes that last one or two millennia. It makes more sense that volcanism can cause temperature changes on a scale of a few years to tens of years, as inferred historically and predicted by the Creation/Flood/Ice Age model. It is known that if an eruption reaches high in the stratosphere, the climatic cooling can last a decade: “Our simulations demonstrate that the lifetime of stratospheric aerosol from extratropical injections is strongly connected to the injection height within the stratosphere.”34 Also, two or more volcanoes erupting in close succession can also cause decadal scale cooling: “Clustering of major eruptions may even represent a substantial climate forcing over decades to multi-centennial timescales.”40 Decadal changes caused by differential volcanism make much better sense than millennial scale changes. Decadal differential volcanism also implies that the secular dating of the ice cores is greatly stretched out.

How are the millennial scale oscillations explained in the East Antarctic ice cores?

Different amounts of volcanism in each hemisphere would cause the D-O events and the AIMs to be different.34 Since the latitude of volcanism greatly affects the subsequent global cooling, fewer large eruptions in the Southern Hemisphere may be the cause of fewer, unimpressive AIMs compared to the Northern Hemisphere D-O events. For instance, a simulation of a Northern Hemisphere eruption, “generates an aerosol plume that is strictly confined to the Northern Hemisphere in the months following the eruption, with no direct radiative forcing on the tropical zone.”41 And, of course, the millennial scale isotope oscillations would be correlated with the many other chemical and gas variables in the ice cores. Wunsch states: “At higher frequencies, in the millennial band, there is no measurable average relationship between the records [of the hemispheres] and they appear to represent different processes, with a regional character.”42 I believe he is correct, since volcanism in one hemisphere can be nearly independent from the other hemisphere.

Abrupt climate changes used in the global warming scare

The fluctuations of the bottom few hundred metres of some of the deep Greenland ice cores really are ice-flow disturbances. 43,44 But the oxygen isotope ratios near the bottom do point to warmer temperatures, which secular scientists associate with a warmer interglacial. This caused secular scientists to think about the present interglacial, the Holocene. If the previous interglacial can have abrupt climate changes, then so too can the Holocene, and therefore, abrupt climate changes are possible today. However, these bottom fluctuations are due to ice deformation.

The scientists suggest that a D-O type temperature excursion could be caused by a temperature change passing some ‘threshold’ resulting in an abrupt climate change to a new stable climate state. The new climate state may be radically colder or warmer.

Some scientists have even suggested that global warming may just be the ‘trigger’, and once we cross a certain warming threshold, a catastrophic climate change would occur, like seen in Greenland ice cores. This is one reason why so many scientists and layman alike are extremely concerned about global warming. Kendrick Taylor states: “It is ironic that greenhouse warming may lead to rapid cooling in eastern North America, Europe and Scandinavia.”45 Because the ‘next’ ice age is due soon, others threaten: “But warming could lead, paradoxically, to drastic cooling—a catastrophe that could threaten the survival of civilization.”46 So, these abrupt climate changes have fuelled the global warming scare.

Abrupt climate changes will not occur today

Since these abrupt climate changes occurred just during the Ice Age due to highs and lows in volcanism, abrupt climate changes caused by global warming or some other mechanism are unlikely to occur today.47 The ice that accumulated after the Ice Age from the tops of the cores from both Antarctica and Greenland show that there have been no significant climate changes since the Ice Age. There have been minor climate fluctuations, however. Wunsch states: “Connection of D-O events to the possibility of modern abrupt climate change rests on a very weak chain of assumptions.”48


Abrupt climate changes, attributed to inferred temperatures from the Greenland ice cores, are real. The estimated temperature change from oxygen isotope ratios may even underestimate the change in temperature. As expected, uniformitarian scientists are stumped. Then when we examine millennial-scale changes in the Antarctic ice cores, AIMs, we find a much different signal. The AIMs are much weaker than the D-O events in the Greenland ice cores. They represent a temperature change of about 2°C that changes slowly and is opposite to the change in Greenland ice cores. This does not stop glaciologists correlating the changes, although little or no correlation probably exists. This has given rise to the bipolar see-saw theory and the most popular cause for the anticorrelation is the AMOC, although the adequacy of this theory is questionable. Just like with the large deuterium isotope oscillations in the lower 1,500 m of the East Antarctic ice cores, ‘millennial scale oscillations’ can be explained as climate changes caused by decadal scale oscillations in volcanism in the Creation/Flood/Ice Age model. The fluctuations of other variables, such as CO2, calcium, and sodium, can also be explained by this mechanism. This difference between hemispheres can be explained by different volcanic scenarios between the hemispheres, which would generally be semi-independent from each other. The paradigm shift in glaciology to abrupt climate changes has fuelled the global warming scare. However, these abrupt changes occurred during the Ice Age portion of the ice cores and so do not apply to today.

Posted on homepage: 24 November 2023

References and notes

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  31. Oard, M.J., An Ice Age Caused by the Genesis Flood, Institute for Creation Research, Dallas, TX, p. 68, 1990. Return to text.
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  37. Baldini, J.U.L., Brown, R.J., and Mawdsley, N., Evaluating the link between the sulfur-rich Laacher See volcanic eruption and the Younger Dryas climate anomaly, Climate of the Past 14:969–990, 2018. Return to text.
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  40. Fischer, E.M., Luterbacker, J., Zorita, E., Tett, S.F.B., Casty, C., and Wanner, H., European climate response to tropical volcanic eruptions over the last half millennium, Geophysical Research Letters 34(L05707):1–6, 2007. Return to text.
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  47. Oard, M.J., The Great Global Warming Debate (DVD), Creation Ministries International, Powder Springs, GA, 2011 Return to text.
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  49. Oard, M.J., An Ice Age Caused by the Genesis Flood, Institute for Creation Research, Dallas, TX, p. 68, 1990. Return to text.

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