Rapid Loss of CO2 From the South Pacific Ocean During the Last Glacial Termination

Katherine A. Allen, Elisabeth L. Sikes, Robert F. Anderson, Yair Rosenthal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


During the termination of the last ice age, atmospheric CO2 rose ~80 ppm, but the origin of this carbon has not been fully resolved. Here we present novel constraints on the patterns and processes of deglacial CO2 release using three marine sediment cores from the southwest Pacific. Carbon isotopes (δ13C) and boron to calcium ratios (B/Ca) of benthic foraminiferal calcite provide records of the δ13C of total dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) and carbonate ion concentrations ([CO3 2−]) in seawater, respectively. Together these properties indicate enhanced storage of respired CO2 between 1.2- and 2.5-km water depth during the Last Glacial Maximum (19–23 thousand years ago, ka). The first major rise in atmospheric CO2 during the last deglaciation, at the time of Heinrich Stadial 1, was accompanied by increases in δ13C and [CO3 2−] at all core depths. The initial increases could be attributed to southward shifted westerly winds driving increased upwelling in the Southern Ocean, sending a signal of enhanced ventilation northward into the Pacific. Our results confirm that southern Pacific interior water masses served as an important reservoir for CO2 during the last glacial period, likely extracted from the atmosphere via the biologic pump. Some abrupt changes in Pacific carbon storage coincide with changes in Southern Ocean pH (Rae et al., 2018, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0614-0), upwelling indicators (Anderson et al., 2009, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1167441), and pCO2 (Monnin et al., 2001, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.291.5501.112), indicating that portions of the deep Pacific carbon pool can be ventilated rapidly to the atmosphere via the Southern Ocean.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2019PA003766
JournalPaleoceanography and Paleoclimatology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Palaeontology


  • B/Ca
  • glacial cycles
  • ocean carbon storage
  • seawater carbonate ion
  • southwest Pacific


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