The climate changed from one year to the next at the end of the last ice age, says an international research group including scientists from Bern University.
Studying data from Greenland ice cores, the researchers said the information could prove groundbreaking for forecasting sudden changes to the climate in future.
The researchers - using a Swiss-developed system – looked at the ice year for year over a 3,000 year period, according to a report in the journal Science published on Friday.
The group was able to reconstruct two abrupt climate changes thanks to data revealing swings in temperature, precipitation levels and concentrations of atmospheric dust.
The Swiss CFA (Continuous Flow Analysis) system enabled the researchers for the first time to break down the chemical composition of the ice core in intervals of less than a year.
The results show, for example, that 14,700 years ago the climate in Greenland warmed by more than 10°C within a few decades. The group added that the atmospheric circulation changed much more rapidly – between one and three years.
The warming was followed by a cooling period which lasted about 200 years before another warm era was ushered in, with temperatures rising again by 10°C within 60 years.