Seasonal changes in the extent of snow cover and pack-ice were analysed in the satellite-derived maps of the Northern Hemisphere obtained during the last 5 yr. Two intervals were studied in detail: summer 1968 to summer 1969 and summer 1971 to summer 1972. These studies demonstrate that the variation in ground albedo as a result of changing snow and ice cover affects the Earth's energy budget to a far greater degree than any possible extraterrestrial mechanism could do on such a short time scale. However, the rapid expansion of snow cover between late September and November suggests possible feed-back process which could be speeded up or slowed down by minute changes in energy and moisture budget at the snow accretion area. These changes may be of any origin, natural or artificial, and on the time scales ranging from days to millenia.
In this context, the close correspondence between the radiometrically dated gross climate changes within the past 150,000 yr and between the curve showing the rate of change in winter insolation for the middle latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere is conspicuous. The periodicity of about 20,000 yr is involved.
An insolation chronology is introduced here, which is based entirely on astronomic factors (on the so called Milankovitch mechanism of Earth orbital elements). It is independent of any geologic or geochronologic dating systems. Two alternating units comprise the insolation chronology. The positive insolation regime (PIR) is an episode defined by progressively increasing winter irradiation in the Northern Hemisphere, whereas the negative insolation regime (NIR) is an episode of progressively decreasing winter irradiation. The PIR closely correlates with the generally warm intervals such as interglacials and temperate interstadials, the NIR with generally cold intervals. This basic pattern interferes with short-term oscillations which may retard or advance the climate response on the scale of centuries.
It is observed that the positive insolation regime designated as PIR 110, which started at 11,000 YBP, has ended recently. The new negative insolation regime, NIR 0/ + 8, will last for the next 8000 yr. Inasmuch within the last radiometrically dated 150,000 yr no NIR is known to correlate with generally warm interval, the prognosis is for a long-lasting global cooling more severe than any experienced hitherto by civilized mankind.