Ocean carbon cycling during the past 130,000 years – a pilot study on inverse paleoclimate record modelling

What role did changes in marine carbon cycle processes and calcareous organisms play for glacial-interglacial variation in atmospheric pCO2? In order to answer this question, we explore results from an ocean biogeochemical ocean general circulation model. We make an attempt to systematically reconcile model results with time dependent sediment core data from the observations. For this purpose, simulated sensitivities of oceanic tracer concentrations to changes in governing carbon cycle parameters are fitted to measured sediment core data.We assume that the time variation of the governing carbon cycle parameters follows the general pattern of the glacial-interglacial deuterium anomaly. Our analysis provides an independent estimate of a maximum mean sea surface temperature drawdown of about 5 °C and a maximum outgassing of the land biosphere by about 430 PgC at the last glacial maximum as compared to preindustrial times. The overall fit of modelled paleoclimate tracers to observations, however, remains quite weak indicating the potential of more detailed modelling studies for full exploitation of the information as stored in the paleo-climatic archive. It can be confirmed, however, that a decline in ocean temperature and a more efficient biological carbon pump in combination with changes in ocean circulation are the key factors for explaining the glacial CO2 drawdown. The analysis suggests that potential changes in the export rain ratio POC:CaCO3 may not have a substantial imprint on the paleo-climatic archive. The use of the last glacial as an inverted analogue to potential ocean acidification impacts thus may be quite limited. A potential strong decrease in CaCO3 export production could contribute to the glacial CO2 decline in the atmosphere but remains hypothetical.

Heinze C., Hoogakker B. & Winguth A., 2016. Ocean carbon cycling during the past 130,000 years – a pilot study on inverse paleoclimate record modelling. Climate of the Past Discussions 1-48. Article.


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