Impact of brine-induced stratification on the glacial carbon cycle
Abstract. During the cold period of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, about 21 000 years ago) atmospheric CO2 was around 190 ppm, much lower than the pre-industrial concentration of 280 ppm. The causes of this substantial drop remain partially unresolved, despite intense research. Understanding the origin of reduced atmospheric CO2 during glacial times is crucial to comprehend the evolution of the different carbon reservoirs within the Earth system (atmosphere, terrestrial biosphere and ocean). In this context, the ocean is believed to play a major role as it can store large amounts of carbon, especially in the abyss, which is a carbon reservoir that is thought to have expanded during glacial times. To create this larger reservoir, one possible mechanism is to produce very dense glacial waters, thereby stratifying the deep ocean and reducing the carbon exchange between the deep and upper ocean. The existence of such very dense waters has been inferred in the LGM deep Atlantic from sediment pore water salinity and δ18O inferred temperature. Based on these observations, we study the impact of a brine mechanism on the glacial carbon cycle. This mechanism relies on the formation and rapid sinking of brines, very salty water released during sea ice formation, which brings salty dense water down to the bottom of the ocean. It provides two major features: a direct link from the surface to the deep ocean along with an efficient way of setting a strong stratification. We show with the CLIMBER-2 carbon-climate model that such a brine mechanism can account for a significant decrease in atmospheric CO2 and contribute to the glacial-interglacial change. This mechanism can be amplified by low vertical diffusion resulting from the brine-induced stratification. The modeled glacial distribution of oceanic δ13C as well as the deep ocean salinity are substantially improved and better agree with reconstructions from sediment cores, suggesting that such a mechanism could have played an important role during glacial times.