Breakup of last glacial deep stratification in the South Pacific

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Science  23 Feb 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6378, pp. 900-904
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao2473

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CO2 escaped from the deep

Why did the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide rise so much and so quickly during the last deglaciation? Evidence has begun to accumulate suggesting that old, carbon-rich water accumulated at depth in the Southern Ocean, which then released its charge when Southern Ocean stratification broke down as the climate there warmed. Basak et al. present measurements of neodymium isotopes that clearly show that the deepwater column of the glacial southern South Pacific was stratified, just as would be necessary for the accumulation of old, carbon-rich water. Their data also show that North Atlantic processes were not the dominant control on Southern Ocean water-mass structure during that interval, as has been thought.

Science, this issue p. 900


Stratification of the deep Southern Ocean during the Last Glacial Maximum is thought to have facilitated carbon storage and subsequent release during the deglaciation as stratification broke down, contributing to atmospheric CO2 rise. Here, we present neodymium isotope evidence from deep to abyssal waters in the South Pacific that confirms stratification of the deepwater column during the Last Glacial Maximum. The results indicate a glacial northward expansion of Ross Sea Bottom Water and a Southern Hemisphere climate trigger for the deglacial breakup of deep stratification. It highlights the important role of abyssal waters in sustaining a deep glacial carbon reservoir and Southern Hemisphere climate change as a prerequisite for the destabilization of the water column and hence the deglacial release of sequestered CO2 through upwelling.

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