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A stagnation event in the deep South Atlantic during the last interglacial period

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Science  19 Dec 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6216, pp. 1514-1517
DOI: 10.1126/science.1256620

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Abstract

During the last interglacial period, global temperatures were ~2°C warmer than at present and sea level was 6 to 8 meters higher. Southern Ocean sediments reveal a spike in authigenic uranium 127,000 years ago, within the last interglacial, reflecting decreased oxygenation of deep water by Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW). Unlike ice age reductions in AABW, the interglacial stagnation event appears decoupled from open ocean conditions and may have resulted from coastal freshening due to mass loss from the Antarctic ice sheet. AABW reduction coincided with increased North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) formation, and the subsequent reinvigoration in AABW coincided with reduced NADW formation. Thus, alternation of deep water formation between the Antarctic and the North Atlantic, believed to characterize ice ages, apparently also occurs in warm climates.

A brief hiccup in deep ocean circulation

During the last interglacial period, Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) formation slowed markedly. This densest ocean water sinks to the bottom of the sea, and its production helps to flush the oceans and eventually to recycle the carbon dioxide (CO2) that forms from sinking organic matter back into the atmosphere. If the AABW production rate decreases, then CO2 accumulates at depth, potentially causing a corresponding drop in atmospheric CO2 concentration. Hayes et al. found evidence, in the form of a uranium spike, in deep sea sediments that such a slowdown in AABW formation occurred ∼127,000 years ago, which may have caused the atmospheric CO2 minimum observed at that time.

Science, this issue p. 1514

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