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Milankovitch Orbital Parameters


A Model/Simulation to learn about changes in Earth’s climate caused by variations in the solar energy received by the planet over geological time scales and to understand the role of the orbital parameters (obliquity, precession, and eccentricity) in causing ice age cycles (Milankovitch cycles) on Earth.

Students can vary orbital parameters (eccentricity, obliquity, longitude of the perihelion) of Earth to observe the corresponding effect on the incoming solar radiation (insolation). They can also compare the global and seasonal distribution of insolation at two different points in time, and observe orbital data for particular times in the past and future (based on the paper by Laskar et al.).

As a teacher of Mathematics/ Statistics, you can use this resource to teach your students how to write code for different simulations of Earth’s long term climate fluctuations due to changes in orbital parameters. Detailed instructions are provided by the author of the model. This code is in the “shiny” package of R.

This resource consists of ten components:

  1.  A script that reads the orbital data from a file
  2. A function that calculates daily mean insolation at 65N from the given orbital parameters
  3. A script that generates plots graphs
  4. A function that computes daily mean top-of-atmosphere insolation by latitude & season from
    Earth’s orbital parameters (eccentricity, obliquity, and longitude of perihelion)
  5. A script that plots the distribution of insolation by latitude & season
  6. A script that compares the distribution of insolation at two different times chosen by the user
  7. A script that lets the user explore the sensitivity of the distribution of insolation to the Earth’s
    orbital parameters
  8. A function that write a text file of orbital data and lets the user download it through the web
  9. The user interface that controls the sliders and passes inputs to the model
  10. The “server” that responds to user interface events in the web browser


Use this tool to help your students find answers to:

  1. What are Milankovitch Cycles?
  2.  How do changes in Earth’s obliquity, precession, and eccentricity of orbit affect its climate?
About Tool
Tool Name Milankovitch Orbital Data Viewer
Discipline Earth Sciences, Physics, Mathematics and Statistics
Topic(s) in Discipline Milankovitch Cycles, Earth’s Orbital Parameters, Eccentricity, Obliquity, Precession, Glacial Interglacial Cycles, Ice Ages, Earth’s Climate, Cyrosphere
Climate Topic Long-term Feedback Mechanism, Climate Variability Record
Type of tool Model/Simulation
Grade Level High School, Undergraduate
Location Global
Language English
Translation      –
Developed by Scott Denning (Colorado State University)
Hosted at Denning Research Group Toy Models
Access Online
Computer Skills Intermediate


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