Although the Arctic occupies less than 5% of the Earth's surface, it includes some of the strongest positive feedbacks in the climate system. Reconstructing the climate history of the Quaternary requires a suite of climate proxies that can be placed in a secure time frame. Most Arctic proxies reflect past summer temperatures, although a subset is sensitive to winter temperatures and/or precipitation. During the Quaternary, the Arctic has experienced a greater change in temperature, vegetation, and ocean surface characteristics than has any other Northern Hemisphere latitudinal band. Arctic temperature amplification is a consequence of several strong positive feedbacks. They include the fast feedbacks of snow and ice albedo, sea-ice insulation, vegetation, and permafrost, as well as a suite of slower responding feedbacks operating on glacial–interglacial timescales tied to the growth and decay of aerially extensive, thick continental ice sheets. Large changes in Arctic temperatures impact regions outside the Arctic through their proximal influence on the planetary energy balance and circulation of the Northern Hemisphere atmosphere and ocean, and with potential global impacts through changes in sea level, the release of greenhouse gases, and impacts on the ocean's meridional overturning circulation. Quantitative paleoclimate reconstructions for specific cold and warm times during the Quaternary suggest that Arctic temperature changes have been 3 to 4 times the corresponding hemispheric or globally averaged changes. This article provides a brief overview of climate changes leading up to the last ice age, then overviews the changes in Arctic climate during the Quaternary.
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