Letter | Published:

Collapse and rapid resumption of Atlantic meridional circulation linked to deglacial climate changes

Nature volume 428, pages 834837 (22 April 2004) | Download Citation

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Abstract

The Atlantic meridional overturning circulation is widely believed to affect climate. Changes in ocean circulation have been inferred from records of the deep water chemical composition derived from sedimentary nutrient proxies1, but their impact on climate is difficult to assess because such reconstructions provide insufficient constraints on the rate of overturning2. Here we report measurements of 231Pa/230Th, a kinematic proxy for the meridional overturning circulation, in a sediment core from the subtropical North Atlantic Ocean. We find that the meridional overturning was nearly, or completely, eliminated during the coldest deglacial interval in the North Atlantic region, beginning with the catastrophic iceberg discharge Heinrich event H1, 17,500 yr ago, and declined sharply but briefly into the Younger Dryas cold event, about 12,700 yr ago. Following these cold events, the 231Pa/230Th record indicates that rapid accelerations of the meridional overturning circulation were concurrent with the two strongest regional warming events during deglaciation. These results confirm the significance of variations in the rate of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation for abrupt climate changes.

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Acknowledgements

This study was improved by assistance and input from O. Marchal, M. Bacon, W. Curry, L. Labeyrie, R. Anderson, N. Ohkouchi and T. Eglinton. Technical expertise was provided by A. Fleer, E. Roosen, L. Zou, S. Manganini, E. Frank, L. Ball, D. Schneider, I. Grigorov, S. Benetti, M. Jeglinski and A. Edwards. Support for this research was provided in part by the US-NSF OCE and INT programmes, the France CNRS, WHOI-OCCI and Mellon awards, and the Comer Science and Education Foundation.

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Affiliations

  1. Department of Geology and Geophysics, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA

    • J. F. McManus
    •  & L. D. Keigwin
  2. Department of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA

    • R. Francois
    •  & S. Brown-Leger
  3. Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'environnement, Domaine de CNRS, 91198 Gif-sur-Yvette, France

    • J.-M. Gherardi

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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to J. F. McManus.

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    Supplementary Table

    Accelerator mass spectrometer radiocarbon measurements and calibrated (calendar) ages.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02494

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