Using these three orbital variations, Milankovitch was able to formulate a comprehensive mathematical model that calculated latitudinal differences in insolation and the corresponding surface temperature for 600,000 years prior to the year 1800. He then attempted to correlate these changes with the growth and retreat of the Ice Ages. To do this, Milankovitch assumed that radiation changes in some latitudes and seasons are more important to ice sheet growth and decay than those in others. Then, at the suggestion of German Climatologist Vladimir Koppen, he chose summer insolation at 65 degrees North as the most important latitude and season to model, reasoning that great ice sheets grew near this latitude and that cooler summers might reduce summer snowmelt, leading to a positive annual snow budget and ice sheet growth.
But, for about 50 years, Milankovitch's theory was largely ignored. Then, in 1976, a study published in the journal Science examined deep-sea sediment cores and found that Milankovitch's theory did in fact correspond to periods of climate change (Hays et al. 1976). Specifically, the authors were able to extract the record of temperature change going back 450,000 years and found that major variations in climate were closely associated with changes in the geometry (eccentricity, obliquity, and precession) of Earth's orbit. Indeed, ice ages had occurred when the Earth was going through different stages of orbital variation.
Since this study, the National Research Council of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has embraced the Milankovitch Cycle model.
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On the Shoulders of Giants