Articles | Volume 10, issue 4
Research article
29 Jul 2014
Research article |  | 29 Jul 2014

A major change in North Atlantic deep water circulation 1.6 million years ago

N. Khélifi and M. Frank

Abstract. The global ocean–climate system has been highly sensitive to the formation and advection of deep overflow water from the Nordic Seas as integral part of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) but its evolution over the Pliocene–Pleistocene global cooling is not fully understood. In particular, changes in the sources and mixing of prevailing deep waters that were involved in driving overturning throughout the Pliocene–Pleistocene climate transitions are not well constrained. Here we investigate the evolution of a substantial deep southward return overflow of the AMOC over the last 4 million years. We present new records of the bottom-water radiogenic neodymium isotope (ϵNd) variability obtained from three sediment cores (DSDP site 610 and ODP sites 980/981 and 900) at water depths between 2170 and 5050 m in the northeast Atlantic. We find that prior to the onset of major Northern Hemisphere glaciation (NHG) ∼3 million years ago (Ma), ϵNd values primarily oscillated between −9 and −11 at all sites, consistent with enhanced vertical mixing and weak stratification of the water masses during the warmer-than-today Pliocene period. From 2.7 Ma to ∼2.0 Ma, the ϵNd signatures of the water masses gradually became more distinct, which documents a significant advection of Nordic Seas overflow deep water coincident with the intensification of NHG. Most markedly, however, at ∼1.6 Ma the interglacial ϵNd signatures at sites 610 (2420 m water depth (w.d.)) and 980/981 (2170 m w.d.) synchronously and permanently shifted by 2 to 3 ϵNd units to less radiogenic values, respectively. Since then the difference between glacial and interglacial ϵNd values has been similar to the Late Quaternary at each site. A decrease of ∼2ϵNd units at 1.6 Ma was also recorded for the deepest water masses by site 900 (∼5050 m w.d.), which thereafter, however, evolved to more radiogenic values again until the present. This major ϵNd change across the 1.6 Ma transition reflects a significant reorganization of the overturning circulation in the northeast Atlantic paving the way for the more stratified water column with distinct water masses prevailing thereafter.