Letter | Published:

North Pacific deglacial hypoxic events linked to abrupt ocean warming

Nature volume 527, pages 362366 (19 November 2015) | Download Citation

Abstract

Marine sediments from the North Pacific document two episodes of expansion and strengthening of the subsurface oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) accompanied by seafloor hypoxia during the last deglacial transition1,2,3,4. The mechanisms driving this hypoxia remain under debate1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11. We present a new high-resolution alkenone palaeotemperature reconstruction from the Gulf of Alaska that reveals two abrupt warming events of 4–5 degrees Celsius at the onset of the Bølling and Holocene intervals that coincide with sudden shifts to hypoxia at intermediate depths. The presence of diatomaceous laminations and hypoxia-tolerant benthic foraminiferal species, peaks in redox-sensitive trace metals12,13, and enhanced 15N/14N ratio of organic matter13, collectively suggest association with high export production. A decrease in 18O/16O values of benthic foraminifera accompanying the most severe deoxygenation event indicates subsurface warming of up to about 2 degrees Celsius. We infer that abrupt warming triggered expansion of the North Pacific OMZ through reduced oxygen solubility and increased marine productivity via physiological effects; following initiation of hypoxia, remobilization of iron from hypoxic sediments could have provided a positive feedback on ocean deoxygenation through increased nutrient utilization and carbon export. Such a biogeochemical amplification process implies high sensitivity of OMZ expansion to warming.

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Acknowledgements

We thank J. Padman for assistance with faunal counts, K. Brewster for assistance with alkenone sample preparation and analysis, and A. Guiheneuf for preliminary alkenone measurements and faunal assemblage data. This work was supported by NSF grants AGS-0602395 (Project PALEOVAR, A.C.M.) and OCE-1204204 (A.C.M. and F.G.P.), and an NSF graduate research fellowship for S.K.P.; J.A.A. was supported by the USGS Climate and Land Use Change Research and Development Program and the Volcano Science Center.

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Author notes

    • S. K. Praetorius

    Present address: Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford, California 94305, USA.

Affiliations

  1. College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA

    • S. K. Praetorius
    • , A. C. Mix
    • , M. H. Walczak
    • , M. D. Wolhowe
    •  & F. G. Prahl
  2. US Geological Survey, Menlo Park, California 94025, USA

    • J. A. Addison

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Contributions

S.K.P. and A.C.M. designed the study and wrote the paper. S.K.P., M.D.W., and F.G.P. contributed to alkenone palaeotemperature measurements and analysis. M.H.W. assisted with the chronology. J.A.A. provided insights on the trace metal and δ15N records. All authors contributed to interpretation of the data and provided comments on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to S. K. Praetorius.

The data can be found in the Source Data for Figs 2 and 4 and at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Paleoclimate Database.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature15753

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