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Late Cretaceous seasonal ocean variability from the Arctic


The modern Arctic Ocean is regarded as a barometer of global change and amplifier of global warming1 and therefore records of past Arctic change are critical for palaeoclimate reconstruction. Little is known of the state of the Arctic Ocean in the greenhouse period of the Late Cretaceous epoch (65–99 million years ago), yet records from such times may yield important clues to Arctic Ocean behaviour in near-future warmer climates. Here we present a seasonally resolved Cretaceous sedimentary record from the Alpha ridge of the Arctic Ocean. This palaeo-sediment trap provides new insight into the workings of the Cretaceous marine biological carbon pump. Seasonal primary production was dominated by diatom algae but was not related to upwelling as was previously hypothesized2. Rather, production occurred within a stratified water column, involving specially adapted species in blooms resembling those of the modern North Pacific subtropical gyre3, or those indicated for the Mediterranean sapropels4. With increased CO2 levels and warming currently driving increased stratification in the global ocean5, this style of production that is adapted to stratification may become more widespread. Our evidence for seasonal diatom production and flux testify to an ice-free summer, but thin accumulations of terrigenous sediment within the diatom ooze are consistent with the presence of intermittent sea ice in the winter, supporting a wide body of evidence for low temperatures in the Late Cretaceous Arctic Ocean6,7,8, rather than recent suggestions of a 15 °C mean annual temperature at this time9.

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Figure 1: Location of the Alpha ridge cores.
Figure 2: Composition of the laminated CESAR-6 core.
Figure 3: Seasonal cycle of production and flux in the late Cretaceous Arctic Ocean.
Figure 4: Evidence for ice rafting.


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The research was supported by the award of a NERC Research Studentship (A.D.) and a NERC Research Grant (A.E.S.K. and J.P.). We are grateful to P. Mudie for facilitating sampling of the CESAR-6 core and to D. Clark for providing samples from core FL-437. We thank R. Pearce for assistance with electron microscopy and K. Davis for expertise in drafting. We also thank P. Wilson and H. Pälike for comments on the manuscript.

Author Contributions Preliminary SEM and diatom studies of the material were undertaken by J.P. and A.E.S.K. Detailed SEM lamina studies and diatom analysis were performed by A.D. during PhD studies supervised by A.E.S.K. and J.P. All authors contributed to interpretation. The manuscript was written by A.E.S.K. and incorporates comments from all others.

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Correspondence to Alan E. S. Kemp.

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This file contains Supplementary Notes and Data, Supplementary References, Supplementary Tables S1-S4 and Supplementary Figures S1-S2 with Legends. Supplementary Figure 1 was corrected on 16 July, 2009. (PDF 1256 kb)

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Davies, A., Kemp, A. & Pike, J. Late Cretaceous seasonal ocean variability from the Arctic. Nature 460, 254–258 (2009).

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