Articles | Volume 8, issue 2
Clim. Past, 8, 545–563, 2012

Special issue: Advances in understanding the Quaternary carbon cycle

Clim. Past, 8, 545–563, 2012

Research article 16 Mar 2012

Research article | 16 Mar 2012

Quantifying the ocean's role in glacial CO2 reductions

M. O. Chikamoto1, A. Abe-Ouchi1,2, A. Oka2, R. Ohgaito1, and A. Timmermann3 M. O. Chikamoto et al.
  • 1Research Institute for Global Change, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan
  • 2Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, University of Tokyo, Kashiwa, Chiba, Japan
  • 3International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

Abstract. A series of Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) marine carbon cycle sensitivity experiments is conducted to test the effect of different physical processes, as simulated by two atmosphere-ocean general circulation model (AOGCM) experiments, on atmospheric pCO2. One AOGCM solution exhibits an increase in North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) formation under glacial conditions, whereas the other mimics an increase in Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) associated with a weaker NADW. None of these sensitivity experiments reproduces the observed magnitude of glacial/interglacial pCO2 changes. However, to explain the reconstructed vertical gradient of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) of 40 mmol m−3 a marked enhancement in AABW formation is required. Furthermore, for the enhanced AABW sensitivity experiment the simulated stable carbon isotope ratio (δ13C) decreases by 0.4‰ at intermediate depths in the South Atlantic in accordance with sedimentary evidence. The shift of deep and bottom water formation sites from the North Atlantic to the Southern Ocean increases the total preformed nutrient inventory, so that the lowered efficiency of Southern Ocean nutrient utilization in turn increases atmospheric pCO2. This change eventually offsets the effect of an increased abyssal carbon pool due to stronger AABW formation. The effects of interhemispheric glacial sea-ice changes on atmospheric pCO2 oppose each other. Whereas, extended sea-ice coverage in the Southern Hemisphere reduces the air-sea gas exchange of CO2 in agreement with previous theoretical considerations, glacial advances of sea-ice in the Northern Hemisphere lead to a weakening of the oceanic carbon uptake through the physical pump. Due to enhanced gas solubility associated with lower sea surface temperature, both glacial experiments generate a reduction of atmospheric pCO2 by about 20–23 ppmv. The sensitivity experiments presented here demonstrate the presence of compensating effects of different physical processes in the ocean on glacial CO2 and the difficulty of finding a simple explanation of the glacial CO2 problem by invoking ocean dynamical changes.