Deepwater Formation in the North Pacific During the Last Glacial Termination

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Science  09 Jul 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5988, pp. 200-204
DOI: 10.1126/science.1190612

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Switching Basins

Most of the densest, deepest water at the bottom of the oceans comes from two regions, the North Atlantic and the circum-Antarctic. Have other regions been able to produce significant quantities of deep water in the past? For decades, researchers have looked, with limited success, for evidence of deepwater formation in the North Pacific since the time of the Last Glacial Maximum, about 23,000 years ago. Okazaki et al. (p. 200) combine published observational evidence from the North Pacific with model simulations to suggest that deep water did form in the North Pacific during the early part of the Last Glacial Termination, between about 17,500 and 15,000 years ago. The switch between deep-water formation in the North Atlantic and the North Pacific is likely to have had an important effect on heat transport and climate.


Between ~17,500 and 15,000 years ago, the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation weakened substantially in response to meltwater discharges from disintegrating Northern Hemispheric glacial ice sheets. The global effects of this reorganization of poleward heat flow in the North Atlantic extended to Antarctica and the North Pacific. Here we present evidence from North Pacific paleo surface proxy data, a compilation of marine radiocarbon age ventilation records, and global climate model simulations to suggest that during the early stages of the Last Glacial Termination, deep water extending to a depth of ~2500 to 3000 meters was formed in the North Pacific. A switch of deepwater formation between the North Atlantic and the North Pacific played a key role in regulating poleward oceanic heat transport during the Last Glacial Termination.

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