Articles | Volume 11, issue 4
Research article
21 Apr 2015
Research article |  | 21 Apr 2015

Subsurface North Atlantic warming as a trigger of rapid cooling events: evidence from the early Pleistocene (MIS 31–19)

I. Hernández-Almeida, F.-J. Sierro, I. Cacho, and J.-A. Flores

Abstract. Subsurface water column dynamics in the subpolar North Atlantic were reconstructed in order to improve the understanding of the cause of abrupt ice-rafted detritus (IRD) events during cold periods of the early Pleistocene. We used paired Mg / Ca and δ18O measurements of Neogloboquadrina pachyderma (sinistral – sin.), deep-dwelling planktonic foraminifera, to estimate the subsurface temperatures and seawater δ18O from a sediment core from Gardar Drift, in the subpolar North Atlantic. Carbon isotopes of benthic and planktonic foraminifera from the same site provide information about the ventilation and water column nutrient gradient. Mg / Ca-based temperatures and seawater δ18O suggest increased subsurface temperatures and salinities during ice-rafting, likely due to northward subsurface transport of subtropical waters during periods of weaker Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). Planktonic carbon isotopes support this suggestion, showing coincident increased subsurface ventilation during deposition of IRD. Subsurface accumulation of warm waters would have resulted in basal warming and break-up of ice-shelves, leading to massive iceberg discharges in the North Atlantic. The release of heat stored at the subsurface to the atmosphere would have helped to restart the AMOC. This mechanism is in agreement with modelling and proxy studies that observe a subsurface warming in the North Atlantic in response to AMOC slowdown during Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 3.

Short summary
This manuscript presents new Mg/Ca and previously published δ18O measurements of Neogloboquadrina pachyderma sinistral for MIS 31-19, from a sediment core from the subpolar North Atlantic. The mechanism proposed here involves northward subsurface transport of warm and salty subtropical waters during periods of weaker AMOC, leading to ice-sheet instability and IRD discharge. This is the first time that these rapid climate oscillations are described for the early Pleistocene.