Possible physical mechanisms relating orbital-element variations (i.e., the “Milankovitch mechanism” of insolation regime changes) to Quaternary glacial/interglacial transitions are explored quantitatively. These include the seasonal cycle of albedo and the zonal distribution of thermal inertia. These mechanisms can interact with the perturbations to zonal average and seasonal average insolation caused by orbital-element variations to cause a global annual temperature residual, even though such variations can cause only a negligible change in global annual insolation.
Numerical model experiments with a zonal energy balance model show that the relative interactions between insolation regime changes and seasonally and latitudinally varying albedo and latitudinally varying thermal inertia are roughly of comparable magnitude. Encouraging agreements between model experiments and data are evident, but these (and others') simulations are still a long way away from providing a satisfying explanation of the physical processes that could fully explain the apparent connections between orbital-element variations and Quaternary glaciations.
It seems likely that no single physical process can be identified as predominate, and rather, the hypothesized physical connection between insolation regime changes and glacial/interglacial transitions will have to be built on the interactions of a number of processes on both short and long time scales.