Ocean biogeochemistry in the warm climate of the Late Paleocene

The Late Paleocene is characterized by warm and stable climatic conditions which 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 into 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, which affects the strength and spatial variation of the different carbon pumps. Primary production is only slightly reduced in comparison to 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. Yet, 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 sluggish ocean.

Heinze M. & Ilyina T., 2014. Ocean biogeochemistry in the warm climate of the Late Paleocene. Climate of the  Past Discussions 10:1933-1975. Article.

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