Orbital variations, climate and paleoecology

P. J. Bartlein*, I. C. Prentice

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)


One of the most exciting discoveries in the earth sciences in recent decades has been the proof that ice ages are governed by deterministic variations in the earth's orbit. These variations modify the latitudinal and seasonal distribution of solar radiation at periods ranging from 103 to 105 years, and alternately produce conditions for building and melting continental ice. The same solar radiation variations also govern other aspects of world climate, including the temperatures of the midlatitude continental interiors, the intensity of upwelling in the tropical oceans, and the strength and extent of the monsoons. The interplay of solar radiation, seasonality and ice-sheet changes is responsible for the complex ecological history documented in the fossil record of the past 20 000 years. But the orbital variations have occurred throughout earth's history, and have caused periodic environmental changes in both terrestrial and marine environments even during times when there was no ice. Species have responded to these changes by range migration, an evolved ability that may maintain their genetic coherence in the face of a continually changing environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-199
Number of pages5
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1989
Externally publishedYes


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