AGU Fall Meeting 2013: Our understanding of future Arctic change is informed by the history of past changes, which often have been both large and abrupt. The well-known ice-age events such as the Younger Dryas show how sea-ice changes can amplify forcing to produce very large responses, with wintertime sea ice especially important. These changes are increasingly seen to have played a central role in the ice-age cycling through their global impact on CO2 storage in the deep ocean.
The Heinrich events reveal processes of ice-sheet/ocean interaction, some of which are being played out in Greenland and Antarctica now, and which may have large future effects on sea-level rise. The paleoclimatic record plus physical understanding greatly reduce the worst worries about instabilities from methane stored in cold places, but tend to support a role in amplifying future warming.
Overall, the very large impacts of past Arctic changes, and the likelihood that future changes under business-as-usual fossil-fuel emissions will be unprecedented in combined size and speed, raise important questions.