To understand the whereabouts of CO2 during glacials and its pathways during deglacial transitions is one of the main priorities in paleoclimate research. The opposing patterns of atmospheric CO2 and Δ14C suggest that the bulk of CO2 was released from an old and therefore 14C-depleted carbon reservoir. As the modern deep ocean, below ~2000 m, stores up to 60-times more carbon than the entire atmosphere, it is considered to be a major driver of the atmospheric CO2 pattern, storing CO2 during glacials, releasing it during deglacial transitions.
We use a South Pacific transect of sediment cores, covering the Antarctic Intermediate Water (AAIW), the Upper Circumpolar Deep Water (UCDW) and the Lower Circumpolar Deep Water (LCDW), to reconstruct the spatio-temporal evolution of oceanic Δ14C over the last 30,000 years.
During the last glacial, we find significantly 14C-depleted waters between 2000 and 4300 m water depth, indicating a strong stratification and the storage of carbon in these water masses. However, two sediment cores from 2500 m and 3600 m water depth reveal an extreme glacial atmosphere-to-deep-water Δ14C offset of up to -1000‰ and ventilation ages (deep-water to atmosphere 14C-age difference) of ~8000 years. Such old water masses are expected to be anoxic, yet there is no evidence of anoxia in the glacial S-Pacific.
Recent studies showed an increase of Mid Ocean Ridge (MOR) volcanism during glacials due to the low stand of global sea level. For this reason, we hypothesize that the admixture of 14C-dead carbon via tectonic activity along MORs might have contributed to these extremely low radiocarbon values. With a simple 1-box model, we calculated if the admixture of hydrothermal CO2 has the potential to lower the deep Pacific Δ14C signal.
We show that if the oceanic turnover time is at least 2700 years, an increased hydrothermal flux of 1.2 µmol kg-1 yr-1 has the potential to reproduce the extreme radiocarbon values observed in our records.
EPIC Alfred Wegener Institut