The role of mean and stochastic freshwater forcing on the generation of millennial-scale climate variability in the North Atlantic is studied using a low-order coupled atmosphere - ocean - sea ice model. It is shown that millennial-scale oscillations can be excited stochastically, when the North Atlantic Ocean is fresh enough. This finding is used in order to interpret the aftermath of massive iceberg surges (Heinrich events) in the glacial North Atlantic, which are characterized by an excitation of Dansgaard - Oeschger events. Based on model results, it is hypothesized that Heinrich events trigger Dansgaard - Oeschger cycles and that furthermore the occurrence of Heinrich events is dependent on the accumulated climatic effect of a series of Dansgaard - Oeschger events. This scenario leads to a coupled ocean - ice sheet oscillation that shares many similarities with the Bond cycle. Further sensitivity experiments reveal that the timescale of the oscillations can be decomposed into stochastic, linear, and nonlinear deterministic components. A schematic bifurcation diagram is used to compare theoretical results with paleoclimatic data.
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