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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Jun 19;109(25):9755-60. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1204069109. Epub 2012 Jun 6.

Mode change of millennial CO2 variability during the last glacial cycle associated with a bipolar marine carbon seesaw.

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  • 1Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute, University of Bern, Sidlerstrasse 5, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland.


Important elements of natural climate variations during the last ice age are abrupt temperature increases over Greenland and related warming and cooling periods over Antarctica. Records from Antarctic ice cores have shown that the global carbon cycle also plays a role in these changes. The available data shows that atmospheric CO(2) follows closely temperatures reconstructed from Antarctic ice cores during these variations. Here, we present new high-resolution CO(2) data from Antarctic ice cores, which cover the period between 115,000 and 38,000 y before present. Our measurements show that also smaller Antarctic warming events have an imprint in CO(2) concentrations. Moreover, they indicate that during Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5, the peak of millennial CO(2) variations lags the onset of Dansgaard/Oeschger warmings by 250 ± 190 y. During MIS 3, this lag increases significantly to 870 ± 90 y. Considerations of the ocean circulation suggest that the millennial variability associated with the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) undergoes a mode change from MIS 5 to MIS 4 and 3. Ocean carbon inventory estimates imply that during MIS 3 additional carbon is derived from an extended mass of carbon-enriched Antarctic Bottom Water. The absence of such a carbon-enriched water mass in the North Atlantic during MIS 5 can explain the smaller amount of carbon released to the atmosphere after the Antarctic temperature maximum and, hence, the shorter lag. Our new data provides further constraints for transient coupled carbon cycle-climate simulations during the entire last glacial cycle.

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