Research Article

A warm and poorly ventilated deep Arctic Mediterranean during the last glacial period

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Science  14 Aug 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6249, pp. 706-710
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa9554

Slow circulation in the cold Arctic

The Arctic Ocean and Nordic Seas together supply dense, sinking water to the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). The redistribution of heat by the AMOC, in turn, exerts a major influence on climate in the Northern Hemisphere. Thornalley et al. report that during the last glacial period, those regions were nearly stagnant and supplied almost none of the water that they presently contribute to the AMOC. This low rate of flow into the Atlantic was probably due to an absence of vigorous deep-water formation in the Arctic Mediterranean as a consequence of the extensive ice cover there at that time.

Science, this issue p. 706


Changes in the formation of dense water in the Arctic Ocean and Nordic Seas [the “Arctic Mediterranean” (AM)] probably contributed to the altered climate of the last glacial period. We examined past changes in AM circulation by reconstructing radiocarbon ventilation ages of the deep Nordic Seas over the past 30,000 years. Our results show that the glacial deep AM was extremely poorly ventilated (ventilation ages of up to 10,000 years). Subsequent episodic overflow of aged water into the mid-depth North Atlantic occurred during deglaciation. Proxy data also suggest that the deep glacial AM was ~2° to 3°C warmer than modern temperatures; deglacial mixing of the deep AM with the upper ocean thus potentially contributed to the melting of sea ice, icebergs, and terminal ice-sheet margins.

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