Document Type


Publication Date




Publication Title

Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science






073101 (11 pp.)


A simple paleoclimate model was developed as a modeling exercise. The model is a lumped parameter system consisting of an ocean (water), land (dirt), glacier, and sea ice (ice) and driven by the sun (fire). In comparison with other such models, its uniqueness lies in its relative simplicity yet yielding good results. For nominal values of parameters, the system is very sensitive to small changes in the parameters, yielding equilibrium, steady oscillations, and catastrophes such as freezing or boiling oceans. However, stable solutions can be found, especially naturally oscillating solutions. For nominally realistic conditions, natural periods of order 100kyrs are obtained, and chaos ensues if the Milankovitch orbital forcing is applied. An analysis of a truncated system shows that the naturally oscillating solution is a limit cycle with the characteristics of a relaxation oscillation in the two major dependent variables, the ocean temperature and the glacier ice extent. The key to getting oscillations is having the effective emissivity decreasing with temperature and, at the same time, the effective ocean albedo decreases with increasing glacier extent. Results of the original model compare favorably to the proxy data for ice mass variation, but not for temperature variation. However, modifications to the effective emissivity and albedo can be made to yield much more realistic results. The primary conclusion is that the opinion of Saltzman [Clim. Dyn. 5, 67-78 (1990)] is plausible that the external Milankovitch orbital forcing is not sufficient to explain the dominant 100kyr period in the data. Published by AIP Publishing. []

Original Publication Citation

Kroll, J. (2017). Fire, ice, water, and dirt: A simple climate model. Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science, 27(7), 073101. doi:10.1063/1.4991383


0000-0002-7471-1038 (Kroll)