Glacial Atlantic Ocean Circulation: What do we really know?


September 10, 2009
Clark 507, 12:15 p.m.

Synte Peacock

National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO


The Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) d13C data show large differences from present-day data, and imply a much stronger Atlantic vertical nutrient gradient during the LGM. The observation of an apparent divide between low-nutrient waters above about 2km depth and high-nutrient waters below 2km depth, has led to the idea that the oceanic mass flux must exhibit a similar structure in the LGM. Rather than invoking a fundamentally different flow, it is shown that most of the LGM Atlantic data can alternatively be explained under a present-day oceanic circulation regime, by just changing the d13C of waters in the surface-ocean.

Another tracer that has been widely used to infer past changes in oceanic circulation is the sedimentary Pa/Th ratio. Recent reconstructions of past changes in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) based on Pa/Th, and the difficulties inherent in such a reconstruction, are discussed.

The talk ends with some recent model results indicating a new mechanism by which the AMOC may play a role in regulating northern hemisphere climate.