EVIDENCE from ice cores1 indicates that concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide were lower by about 75 p.p.m. during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM; ∼18,000 years ago) than during the present interglacial (10,000 years ago to the present). The causes of such large changes in atmospheric CO2 remain uncertain. Using a climate model, Prentice and Fung2 have estimated that there was approximately the same amount of carbon in vegetation and soils during the LGM as there was during the present (pre-industrial) interglacial. In contrast, we present here results based on palynological, pedological and sedimentological evidence which indicate that in fact the amount of carbon in vegetation, soils and peatlands may have been smaller during the LGM by ∼1.3x 1012 tonnes. Thus, organic carbon in vegetation and soils has more than doubled (from 0.96 to 2.3 x 1012 tonnes) since the LGM. Oceanic CO2 reservoirs seem to be the only possible source of this large quantity of carbon that has entered the terrestrial biosphere since the LGM (in addition to that which has entered the atmosphere to give the higher interglacial CO2 levels).
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Adams, J., Faure, H., Faure-Denard, L. et al. Increases in terrestrial carbon storage from the Last Glacial Maximum to the present. Nature 348, 711–714 (1990). https://doi.org/10.1038/348711a0
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