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The Physical Geography of Southeast Asia$
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Avijit Gupta

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780199248025

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199248025.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 05 December 2021

The Quaternary in Southeast Asia

The Quaternary in Southeast Asia

(p.24) 2 The Quaternary in Southeast Asia
The Physical Geography of Southeast Asia

Geoffrey Hope

Oxford University Press

We live in the Quaternary period and are a product of its wide fluctuations in climate and rapid environmental change. From at least the Mid-Miocene, about 25 million years ago, the expansion of the Southern Ocean has supported a powerful westerly wind system. These winds prevent tropical heat from reaching the Antarctic region, which in turn has allowed the gradual refrigeration of the world’s oceans as ice built up on Antarctica (and eventually formed an ice shelf over the sea; Nunn 1999). Earlier in the Tertiary, when the ocean column was warm from top to bottom, seasonal cooling was offset by rising warm water, and the ocean currents effectively transported heat to the poles. For the last 2 million years the main mass of the oceans has remained at maximum density, around 4°C, with warmer surface waters of the tropical and temperate regions floating only in the upper few hundred metres above the thermocline. The Quaternary is the period of refrigerated ocean which marks an ice age, with the Earth in such a delicate thermal equilibrium that relatively minor changes in the amount of solar radiation received by a given hemisphere in a given season cause major fluctuations of ice volume in terrestrial ice caps. The marked asymmetry of land and sea in the two hemispheres means that the effects of changes in the season of closest approach to the sun, of the degree of tilt of the planet and the eccentricity of the orbit, cause instability in the long-term climate. The Quaternary is defined by successive expansions and retreats of ice caps, with the maximum episodes of ice and of warmth (the interstadials) each lasting around 10 000 years. Intermediate times are cooler than present, and these persist for around 100 000 years. The lock-up of ice is reflected by global changes in sea level, ocean levels falling about 125 m during glacial maxima and rising up to 6 m above present during some interglacials. The Antarctic ice cap retains about 75 m of the ocean’s water even during the interglacial phases.

Keywords:   ash, beach, climate change, deciduous forest, eucalyptus, fire, giant tortoise, hippopotamus, interglacials, kangaroo

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