Geochemical reconstructions of Southern Ocean pH and temperature over the last glacial cycle

The Southern Ocean is widely thought to play an important role in atmospheric CO₂ change over glacial-interglacial cycles. It has been suggested that as the region that ventilates the majority of the world’s carbon-rich deep waters today, reduced exchange between deep waters and the atmosphere in the Southern Ocean acted to draw down CO₂ over glacial timescales. However, direct evidence of the Southern Ocean’s role in glacial CO₂ drawdown has been lacking thus far. Here I apply the boron-isotope pH-proxy to foraminifera from the Antarctic Zone sediment core PS1506 over the last glacial cycle. The low boron concentrations in these polar foraminifera makes these samples particularly sensitive to boron blank and so a close examination of the sources of blank, and an assessment of the precision of blank measurements, has been made. The ratios of trace elements to calcium in foraminiferal shells are widely applied as proxies for palaeoenvironmental parameters such as temperature. As Southern Ocean carbonate sediments are particularly prone to dissolution, which can affect trace element concentrations, an assessment of dissolution has been made. Firstly, dissolution experiments were conducted to constrain the impact of dissolution in a controlled setting, and secondly, shell mass and trace elements were evaluated for the downcore record. Imaging reveals similar etching textures in both experimentally dissolved samples and deglacial intervals, when shell mass is also low and several trace elements exhibit an excursion to lower values. Boron isotope data for PS1506 show that during the penultimate interglacial, surface water pH was low. At the onset of atmospheric CO₂ drawdown, pH increased, indicating low CO₂ surface waters. This is consistent with the signature predicted for a more stratified Southern Ocean, and is evidence that stratification in the Antarctic Zone acted to contribute to CO₂ drawdown early in the transition to a glacial state.

Crumpton-Banks J. G. M., 2020. Geochemical reconstructions of Southern Ocean pH and temperature over the last glacial cycle. PhD thesis, University of St. Andrews. Thesis (restricted access).

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