Carbon Dioxide ‘Leak’ in Southern Ocean May Have Warmed Earth for 11,000 Years

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The Earth’s oceans lock away atmospheric carbon dioxide, but a ‘leak’ in the Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica, brings the greenhouse gas back into the atmosphere. A team of scientists led by Princeton University and the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry looked at concentrations of nitrogen embedded in deep-sea corals and shelled microorganisms called diatoms and foraminifers to identify an increase in Southern Ocean upwelling during the past 11,000 years, which could explain the mysterious warmth of the Holocene period that allowed human populations to flourish.

Antarctica. Image credit: Robyn M.

Answer - Circulation - Ocean - Carbon - Dioxide

“We think we may have found the answer. Increased circulation in the Southern Ocean allowed carbon dioxide to leak into the atmosphere, working to warm the planet,” said Princeton University’s Professor Daniel Sigman, co-author of the study.

“The biological pump is driven mostly by the low latitude ocean but is undone closer to the poles, where carbon dioxide is vented back to the atmosphere by the rapid exposure of deep waters to the surface. The worst offender is the Southern Ocean,” Professor Sigman said.

Scientists - Holocene - Warmth - Development - Civilization

Most scientists agree that the Holocene’s warmth was critical to the development of human civilization.

The Holocene was an ‘interglacial period,’ one of the rare intervals of warm climate that have occurred over the ice age cycles of the last million years. The retreat of the glaciers opened a more expansive landscape for humans, and the higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere made for more productive agriculture, which allowed people to reduce their hunter-gathering activities and build permanent settlements.

Map - Antarctica - Surrounding - Oceans - Image

A map of Antarctica and the surrounding oceans. Image credit: Hogweard / CC BY-SA 3.0.

In order to study the potential causes of the Holocene carbon dioxide rise, Professor Sigman and co-authors investigated three types of fossils from several different areas of the Southern Ocean: diatoms, foraminifers and deep-sea corals.

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(Excerpt) Read more at: Breaking Science News |
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