Earth Institute Research Projects

Collaborative Research: Vertical Gradients in Southern Ocean Radiocarbon Across the Major Climate Transitions of the Last 30,000 Years

Lead PI: Dr. Sophia Hines , Sidney Rasbury Hemming

Unit Affiliation: Geochemistry, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

September 2019 - August 2022
Southern Ocean
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: The Southern Ocean holds disproportionate influence in setting atmospheric CO2 variability and carbon storage in the deep ocean because it is a region featuring both upwelling and deep-water formation. Consequently, considerable effort has been devoted to understanding the Southern Ocean conditions and processes that ultimately led to lower atmospheric CO2 during the last ice age. Radiocarbon is in principle the most diagnostic tracer for ocean/atmosphere carbon cycling over this time period. However, the existing body of radiocarbon data for the Southern Ocean is still limited temporally and spatially, while also suffering from some essential uncertainties that preclude firm conclusions about carbon cycling during the last ice age. This project involves a coordinated program of radiocarbon measurements in three distinct archives of Southern Ocean oceanographic change that span the last 30,000 years. These archives, including both marine sediment sequences and deep-sea coral samples, are located so as to capture the surface, intermediate and deep-water carbon cycle response to climate forcing. The objective of this program is to extend existing radiocarbon measurements while also directly resolving some of the principal uncertainties that currently limit the application of existing radiocarbon observations. The program will serve as a natural platform for engagement of underrepresented students to STEM disciplines and will include undergraduate and masters-level students recruited from local community colleges and state universities.

More specifically, the project includes i.) planktonic-benthic foraminiferal radiocarbon age measurements in a newly acquired sediment sequence off Mozambique (IODP Site U1477) that features exceptionally high resolution; the bottom water at this location is recently ventilated water subducted just south of the Subtropical Convergence, and, therefore, the benthic foraminiferal radiocarbon variability monitors that of the sub-Antarctic surface ocean; ii.) U-series/radiocarbon age pairs in a set of deep-sea coral samples collected from intermediate water depths off Tasmania; the radiocarbon variability expressed in this series of samples is intended as a direct comparison to that of the Mozambique foraminiferal sequence; iii.) extension of existing (but not yet definitive) planktonic-benthic foraminiferal age depth pairs in abyssal South Atlantic sedimentary sequences; the benthic foraminiferal radiocarbon variability at these sites should reflect the deep branch of the Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC). The intention is to provide new observations that, both on their own and by unlocking the potential of existing measurements, will serve as direct tests of models of the relationship between climate forcing and carbon cycling.