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The deep-sea record shows that certain changes in the climate-producing “exogenic” system, provoked through tectonic forces and amplified by internal feedback mechanisms, result in step-like transitions from one climatic state to another. Such steps are important as natural experiments, for the purpose of studying response characteristics of the system, and for establishing high-resolution stratigraphy on a global scale.

An important step-producing mechanism is the buildup of disequilibrium potential within transient reservoirs of hydrosphere, biosphere, or reactive lithosphere, which can collapse under certain conditions. Examples of transient reservoirs are ice caps, the water of isolated basins and their deposits, and...

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