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Requiem for the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis?

Filed under: — gavin @ 1 March 2011

This is the strong conclusion of a new paper in the Earth Science Reviews by Pinter et al (via Scribd). From their abstract:

The Younger Dryas (YD) impact hypothesis is a recent theory that suggests that a cometary or meteoritic body or bodies hit and/or exploded over North America 12,900 years ago, causing the YD climate episode, extinction of Pleistocene megafauna, demise of the Clovis archaeological culture, and a range of other effects.

The physical evidence interpreted as signatures of an impact event can be separated into two groups. The first group consists of evidence that has been largely rejected by the scientific community and is no longer in widespread discussion…. The second group consists of evidence that has been active in recent research and discussions:…. Over time, however, these signatures have also seen contrary evidence rather than support.

In summary, none of the original YD impact signatures have been subsequently corroborated by independent tests. Of the 12 original lines of evidence, seven have so far proven to be non-reproducible. The remaining signatures instead seem to represent either (1) non-catastrophic mechanisms, and/or (2) terrestrial rather than extraterrestrial or impact-related sources.

The YD impact hypothesis made a big splash at AGU in 2007, and we’ve written about it a few times since. Our assessment was (in 2007), that this would need a lot of confirmatory evidence to get accepted, and even if it was, it did not provide much explanation for other, very similar, abrupt changes in the record. In 2009, we were still skeptical and noted that “the level of proof required for this extraordinary idea will need to be extraordinarily strong”. Unfortunately, as this paper makes clear, neither a lot of confirmatory evidence nor extraordinarily strong proofs have been forthcoming.

This paper is unlikely to the very last word on the subject, but it is likely to be the last time the mainstream paleo-climatologists are going to pay this much heed unless some really big new piece of evidence comes to light.

However, while the specifics of this particular hypothesis and its refutation are interesting in many ways…

The YD impact hypothesis provides a cautionary tale for researchers, the scientific community, the press, and the broader public.

Let’s be specific…
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Friday round-up

Filed under: — group @ 28 January 2011

A few items of interest this week.

Paleoclimate:
1. A new study by Spielhagen and co-authors in Science reconstructs temperatures of North Atlantic source waters to the Arctic for the past two millennia, adding another very long-handled Hockey Stick to the ever-growing league.

2. From last week, an article in Science Express by Buntgen et al reconstructing European summer temperature for the past 2500 years, finding that recent warming is unprecedented over that time frame, and providing some historical insights into the societal challenges posed by climate instability (listen here for an interview with mike about the study on NPR’s All Things Considered).

3. The team of ice core researchers at WAIS Divide reaches its goal of 3300 meters of ice. [WAIS Divide, central West Antarctica, is a site of significant warming in Antarctica, over at least the last 50 years, a result recently confirmed by the study of O'Donnell et al. (2010); Stay tuned for more on the that soon].

Other Miscellaneous Items:
1. More in Nature on data sharing.

2. A great primer in Physics Today on planetary energy balance from our very own Ray Pierrehumbert (link to pdf available here).

3. Now shipping are David and Ray’s The Warming Papers and Ray’s Principles of Planetary Climate.

Doing it yourselves

Filed under: — group @ 20 August 2010

We’ve been a little preoccupied recently, but there are some recent developments in the field of do-it-yourself climate science that are worth noting.
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The Montford Delusion

Filed under: — group @ 22 July 2010

Guest commentary by Tamino

Update: Another review of the book has been published by Alistair McIntosh in the Scottish Review of Books (scroll down about 25% through the page to find McIintosh’s review)

Update #2 (8/19/10): The Guardian has now weighed in as well.

If you don’t know much about climate science, or about the details of the controversy over the “hockey stick,” then A. W. Montford’s book The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science might persuade you that not only the hockey stick, but all of modern climate science, is a fraud perpetrated by a massive conspiracy of climate scientists and politicians, in order to guarantee an unending supply of research funding and political power. That idea gets planted early, in the 6th paragraph of chapter 1.

The chief focus is the original hockey stick, a reconstruction of past temperature for the northern hemisphere covering the last 600 years by Mike Mann, Ray Bradley, and Malcolm Hughes (1998, Nature, 392, 779, doi:10.1038/33859, available here), hereafter called “MBH98″ (the reconstruction was later extended back to a thousand years by Mann et al, 1999, or “MBH99″ ). The reconstruction was based on proxy data, most of which are not direct temperature measurements but may be indicative of temperature. To piece together past temperature, MBH98 estimated the relationships between the proxies and observed temperatures in the 20th century, checked the validity of the relationships using observed temperatures in the latter half of the 19th century, then used the relationships to estimate temperatures as far back as 1400. The reconstruction all the way back to the year 1400 used 22 proxy data series, although some of the 22 were combinations of larger numbers of proxy series by a method known as “principal components analysis” (hereafter called “PCA”–see here). For later centuries, even more proxy series were used. The result was that temperatures had risen rapidly in the 20th century compared to the preceding 5 centuries. The sharp “blade” of 20th-century rise compared to the flat “handle” of the 15-19th centuries was reminiscent of a “hockey stick” — giving rise to the name describing temperature history.
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Revisiting the Younger Dryas

Filed under: — group @ 17 July 2010

Guest Commentary by Chris Colose

One of the most intriguing and well-studied climatic events in the past is the Younger Dryas (YD), a rather abrupt climate change between ~12.9 and 11.6 thousand years ago. As the world was slowly warming and ice was retreating from the last glaciation, the YD effectively halted the transition to today’s relatively warm, interglacial conditions in many parts of the world. This event is associated with cold and dry conditions increasing with latitude in the North, temperature and precipitation influences on tropical and boreal wetlands, Siberian-like winters in much of the North Atlantic, weakening of monsoon intensity, and southward displacement of tropical rainfall patterns. RealClimate has previously discussed the YD (here and here) however there have been a number of developments in recent years which deserve further attention, particularly with respect to the spatial characteristics and causes of the YD.
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