This chapter shows how planetary cooling has culminated in a series of periodic glaciations of the Northern hemisphere – the recent ‘ice ages’ – which have become progressively longer and deeper. Although they are paced by variations in the Earth's orbit, they are increasingly dominated by internal oscillations and amplifying feedbacks. The ice ages illustrate the tightly coupled behaviour of the Earth system, indicating that the climate system which we have evolved in is unusually sensitive. At these time scales, oscillations of climate that are paced by the orbital wobbles of the Earth, known as the Milankovitch cycles, become very apparent. The wobbles occur because the Earth's orbit around the sun does not repeat exactly each year but is subject to variations, due ultimately to the presence of other bodies in the solar system.
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