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Climate of the Past An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 5, issue 4
Clim. Past, 5, 695–706, 2009
© Author(s) 2009. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Clim. Past, 5, 695–706, 2009
© Author(s) 2009. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

  18 Nov 2009

18 Nov 2009

Quantifying the roles of ocean circulation and biogeochemistry in governing ocean carbon-13 and atmospheric carbon dioxide at the last glacial maximum

A. Tagliabue1, L. Bopp1, D. M. Roche1,2, N. Bouttes1, J.-C. Dutay1, R. Alkama1,3, M. Kageyama1, E. Michel1, and D. Paillard1 A. Tagliabue et al.
  • 1Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement, IPSL-CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, 91191 Gif sur Yvette, France
  • 2Department of Palaeoclimatology and Geomorphology, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • 3Centre National de Recherches Météorologiques (CNRM), 42 Avenue Coriolis, 31057 Toulouse, France

Abstract. We use a state-of-the-art ocean general circulation and biogeochemistry model to examine the impact of changes in ocean circulation and biogeochemistry in governing the change in ocean carbon-13 and atmospheric CO2 at the last glacial maximum (LGM). We examine 5 different realisations of the ocean's overturning circulation produced by a fully coupled atmosphere-ocean model under LGM forcing and suggested changes in the atmospheric deposition of iron and phytoplankton physiology at the LGM. Measured changes in carbon-13 and carbon-14, as well as a qualitative reconstruction of the change in ocean carbon export are used to evaluate the results. Overall, we find that while a reduction in ocean ventilation at the LGM is necessary to reproduce carbon-13 and carbon-14 observations, this circulation results in a low net sink for atmospheric CO2. In contrast, while biogeochemical processes contribute little to carbon isotopes, we propose that most of the change in atmospheric CO2 was due to such factors. However, the lesser role for circulation means that when all plausible factors are accounted for, most of the necessary CO2 change remains to be explained. This presents a serious challenge to our understanding of the mechanisms behind changes in the global carbon cycle during the geologic past.

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