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V Introduction

V The Milankovitch Theory

V Processes
V Quiz
V Answers
Milutin Milankovitch

V Serbian astrophysicist
V best known for developing one of the most
significant theories relating Earth motions and long-term climate
V dedicated his career to developing a mathematical theory of
climate based on the seasonal and latitudinal variations of solar
radiation received by the Earth ( The Milankovitch Theory )
Milutin Milankovitch
V built his theory from previous work done by J.A. Adhemar and
James Croll
‡ 1842 - Adhemar explained glacial climate using only precession

‡ 1864 - Croll wrote about orbital change and the ice of the Ice Ages
using both the eccentricity cycle and the precession cycle

‡ 1875 - he took into account obliquity (tilt of the axis) cycle

V being a mathematician, took Croll's work and set out to develop a

mathematical theory of climate change

The Milankovitch Theory
V an explanation of long term climate change

V it states that as the Earth travels through space around the sun,
cyclical variations in three elements of Earth-sun geometry
combine to produce variations in the amount of solar energy that
reaches Earth
Three elements:

1. Eccentricity

2. Obliquity
. Precession

V is a term used to describe the shape of Earth's orbit around the sun
V variation of Earth's orbit around the sun ranges from 0.0005 to
V time frame for the cycle is approximately 98,000 years
V impact of the variation is a change in the amount of solar energy
from perihelion to aphelion
V at present, Earth's eccentricity is 0.016
V about 6.4 percent increase in insolation from July to January


V the variation of the tilt of the earth's axis away from the orbital plane
V varies between 22.1o and 24.5o and the average is 2.5o

V changes on a cycle taking approximately 40,000 years

V as this tilt changes, the seasons become more exaggerated
‡ "the more tilt means more severe seasons - warmer summers and colder
winters; less tilt means less severe seasons - cooler summers and milder
winters." (Kaufman, 2002)
V an increase of 1o in obliquity, the total energy received by the
summer hemisphere increases by approximately 1%
V currently the motion is 1.4 km/century as the obliquity decreases -
46.85 inches/century



V the change in orientation of the Earth's rotational axis

V the cycle takes about 19,000 - 2,000 years
V two factors:
‡ a wobble of the Earth's axis

‡ turning around of the elliptical orbit of the

Earth itself
V it affects the direction of the Earth's axis
‡ the change in the axis location changes the dates of perihelion and

‡ currently, the Earth is closest to the sun in the northern hemisphere

V another consequence of precession is a shift in the celestial poles
‡ 5000 years ago the North Star was Thuban in the constellation Draco

‡ currently the North Star is Polaris in the constellation Ursa Minor

V Milankovitch was able to formulate a comprehensive
mathematical model that calculated latitudinal
differences in insolation and the corresponding
surface temperature
V assumed that radiation changes in some latitudes
and seasons are more important to ice sheet growth and decay than
those in others
V German Climatologist Vladimir Koppen
‡ summer insolation at 65 degrees North as the most important latitude
and season to model
V correlation of the three variations
V for about 50 years, Milankovitch's theory was largely ignored
V 1976 - a study published in the journal Science examined deep-sea
sediment cores
‡ Milankovitch's theory did in fact correspond to periods of climate

...orbital variations remain the most thoroughly examined mechanism of climatic

change on time scales of tens of thousands of years and are by far the clearest case of a
direct effect of changing insolation on the lower atmosphere of Earth.

(National Research Council, 1982)