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Letters to Nature
Nature 308, 621 - 624 (12 April 1984); doi:10.1038/308621a0

A new model for the role of the oceans in determining atmospheric PCO2

J. L. Sarmiento & J. R. Toggweiler

Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Program, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08542, USA

Recent ice-core measurements have revealed that the atmospheric CO2 level increased comparatively rapidly by about 70 p.p.m. at the end of the last ice age1. Here we present an ocean–atmosphere model in which changes in the productivity of high latitude surface waters (from which deep water is formed and circulated around the world's ocean) and/or in the thermo-haline overturning rate can lead to substantial changes in atmospheric partial pressure of carbon dioxide (P CO 2), over a concentration range 163–425 p.p.m. A major contribution to the low P CO 2 of the last ice may have been an increase in the net high latitude productivity, possibly coupled with a decrease in the thermohaline overturning.

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