Article | Published:

Mean global ocean temperatures during the last glacial transition

Nature volume 553, pages 3944 (04 January 2018) | Download Citation

Abstract

Little is known about the ocean temperature’s long-term response to climate perturbations owing to limited observations and a lack of robust reconstructions. Although most of the anthropogenic heat added to the climate system has been taken up by the ocean up until now, its role in a century and beyond is uncertain. Here, using noble gases trapped in ice cores, we show that the mean global ocean temperature increased by 2.57 ± 0.24 degrees Celsius over the last glacial transition (20,000 to 10,000 years ago). Our reconstruction provides unprecedented precision and temporal resolution for the integrated global ocean, in contrast to the depth-, region-, organism- and season-specific estimates provided by other methods. We find that the mean global ocean temperature is closely correlated with Antarctic temperature and has no lead or lag with atmospheric CO2, thereby confirming the important role of Southern Hemisphere climate in global climate trends. We also reveal an enigmatic 700-year warming during the early Younger Dryas period (about 12,000 years ago) that surpasses estimates of modern ocean heat uptake.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (scholarship P2BEP2_152071), by the US National Science Foundation (grants 05-38630 and 09-44343 to J.S.) and by the JSPS KAKENHI (grants 21671001, 26241011, 15KK0027 and 17H06320 to K.K.). We thank C. Buizert for providing the WAIS divide past firn temperature modelling results and P. Pfister for providing the Bern3D model results. We are deeply indebted to many participants in the WAIS Divide project and especially thank K. Taylor, M. Twickler, the National Ice Core Laboratory, the Ice Drilling Design and Operations (IDDO) for ice drilling, the New York Air National Guard for airlift, and the Office of Polar Programs of the US National Science Foundation. R. Keeling first provided the idea for the noble-gas-based determination of mean ocean temperature.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California 92037, USA

    • Bernhard Bereiter
    • , Sarah Shackleton
    • , Daniel Baggenstos
    •  & Jeff Severinghaus
  2. Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute, and Oeschger Center for Climate Research, University of Bern, 3012 Bern, Switzerland

    • Bernhard Bereiter
    •  & Daniel Baggenstos
  3. Laboratory for Air Pollution/Environmental Technology, Empa, 8600 Dübendorf, Switzerland

    • Bernhard Bereiter
  4. National Institute of Polar Research, Research Organizations of Information and Systems, 10-3 Midori-cho, Tachikawa, Tokyo 190-8518, Japan

    • Kenji Kawamura
  5. Department of Polar Science, Graduate University for Advanced Studies (SOKENDAI), 10-3 Midori-cho, Tachikawa, Tokyo 190-8518, Japan

    • Kenji Kawamura
  6. Institute of Biogeosciences, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, 2-15 Natsushima-cho, Yokosuka 237-0061, Japan

    • Kenji Kawamura

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Contributions

B.B. and D.B. performed the experiments and analysed the ice samples, and S.S. provided assistance. B.B. analysed the data and J.S. reviewed it. B.B. performed the simulations and data evaluations. J.S. supervised the project. K.K. developed central parts of the method used. B.B. drafted and wrote the manuscript and J.S., D.B. and S.S. reviewed it.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Bernhard Bereiter.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks W. Aeschbach, R. Stanley and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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  1. 1.

    Supplementary Data

    The basic raw isotope and elemental ratios referenced to the current atmosphere as derived from the WAIS divide ice core samples.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature25152

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