The Mid Pleistocene Transition (MPT) constitutes a fundamental shift in Earth's climate system from a 41 ka to a 100 ka periodicity in glacial oscillations. The exact timing and mechanism(s) that caused this change from a low- to high-amplitude glacial variability are still under debate and only recently Pena & Goldstein (2014) suggested that a disruption of the thermohaline circulation at about 900 ka BP and a subsequent change in ocean circulation might have acted as a trigger for the onset of 100 ka glacial-interglacial cycles. Most studies targeting the MPT are based on Atlantic sediment records whereas only few data sets are available from the North Pacific (see e.g. Clark et al., 2006 and McClymont et al., 2013 for reviews).
IODP Expedition 341 distal deep-water site U1417 in the Gulf of Alaska (subpolar NE Pacific) now provided a continuous sediment record for reconstructing Miocene to Late Pleistocene changes in the sea surface conditions and how these relate to orbital and millennial scale climate variability. Here we present organic geochemical biomarker data covering the 1.5 Ma to 0.1 Ma time interval with special focus on the MPT. Alkenone, sterol, n-alkane and C25 highly branched isoprenoid data are used to reconstruct sea surface temperatures, primary productivity and terrigenous organic matter input (via sea ice, icebergs, meltwater discharge or aeolian transport). In addition, the diatom concentration and the species composition of the diatom assemblage deliver information on changes in palaeoproductivity and nutrient (silicate) availability. A major change in the environmental setting between 1.2 and 0.8 Ma is recorded by the biomarkers. This shift seems to be associated with a significant cooling of the surface waters in the Gulf of Alaska. Matching this shift, a significant change in the main components of the diatom community occurred between 1.2 and 0.8 Ma.
Clark, P.U., Archer, D., Pollard, D., Blum, J.D., Rial, J.A., Brovkin, V., Mix, A.C., Pisias, N.G., Roy, M., 2006. Quaternary Science Reviews, 25, (23–24), 3150-3184.
McClymont, E.L., Sosdian, S.M., Rosell-Melé, A., Rosenthal, Y., 2013. Earth-Science Reviews, 123, 173-193.
Pena, L.D. and Goldstein, S.L., 2014. Science, 345, 318-322.
EPIC Alfred Wegener Institut