Synchronous centennial abrupt events in the ocean and atmosphere during the last deglaciation

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Science  25 Sep 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6255, pp. 1537-1541
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac6159

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Flushing the deep ocean

Have changes in ocean circulation contributed to the sudden increases in the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide that occurred during the last deglaciation? Chen et al. provide a high-resolution radiocarbon record for that time, derived from deep sea corals. This record shows that two deep ocean “flushing” events were accompanied by abrupt rises in carbon dioxide and Northern Hemispheric warming. There is a clear connection between these ocean processes and the atmosphere during this interval.

Science, this issue p. 1537


Antarctic ice-core data reveal that the atmosphere experienced abrupt centennial increases in CO2 concentration during the last deglaciation (~18 thousand to 11 thousand years ago). Establishing the role of ocean circulation in these changes requires high-resolution, accurately dated marine records. Here, we report radiocarbon data from uranium-thorium–dated deep-sea corals in the Equatorial Atlantic and Drake Passage over the past 25,000 years. Two major deglacial radiocarbon shifts occurred in phase with centennial atmospheric CO2 rises at 14.8 thousand and 11.7 thousand years ago. We interpret these radiocarbon-enriched signals to represent two short-lived (less than 500 years) “overshoot” events, with Atlantic meridional overturning stronger than that of the modern era. These results provide compelling evidence for a close coupling of ocean circulation and centennial climate events during the last deglaciation.

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