Articles | Volume 11, issue 1
Research article
13 Jan 2015
Research article |  | 13 Jan 2015

Ocean biogeochemistry in the warm climate of the late Paleocene

M. Heinze and T. Ilyina

Abstract. The late Paleocene is characterized by warm and stable climatic conditions that served as the background climate for the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM, ~55 million years ago). With respect to feedback processes in the carbon cycle, the ocean biogeochemical background state is of major importance for projecting the climatic response to a carbon perturbation related to the PETM. Therefore, we use the Hamburg Ocean Carbon Cycle model (HAMOCC), embedded in the ocean general circulation model of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, MPIOM, to constrain the ocean biogeochemistry of the late Paleocene. We focus on the evaluation of modeled spatial and vertical distributions of the ocean carbon cycle parameters in a long-term warm steady-state ocean, based on a 560 ppm CO2 atmosphere. Model results are discussed in the context of available proxy data and simulations of pre-industrial conditions. Our results illustrate that ocean biogeochemistry is shaped by the warm and sluggish ocean state of the late Paleocene. Primary production is slightly reduced in comparison to the present day; it is intensified along the Equator, especially in the Atlantic. This enhances remineralization of organic matter, resulting in strong oxygen minimum zones and CaCO3 dissolution in intermediate waters. We show that an equilibrium CO2 exchange without increasing total alkalinity concentrations above today's values is achieved. However, consistent with the higher atmospheric CO2, the surface ocean pH and the saturation state with respect to CaCO3 are lower than today. Our results indicate that, under such conditions, the surface ocean carbonate chemistry is expected to be more sensitive to a carbon perturbation (i.e., the PETM) due to lower CO32− concentration, whereas the deep ocean calcite sediments would be less vulnerable to dissolution due to the vertically stratified ocean.