Oceanic forcing of the Marine Isotope Stage 11 interglacial


The interglacial known as Marine Isotope Stage 11 has been proposed to be analogous to the Holocene, owing to similarities in the amplitudes of orbital forcing. It has been difficult to compare the periods, however, because of the long duration of Stage 11 and a lack of detailed knowledge of any extreme climate events that may have occurred. Here we use the distinctive phasing between seasurface temperatures and the oxygen-isotope records of benthic foraminifera in the southeast Atlantic Ocean to stratigraphically align the Holocene interglacial with the first half of the Marine Isotope Stage 11 interglacial optimum. This alignment suggests that the second half of Marine Isotope Stage 11 should not be used as a reference for ‘pre-anthropogenic’ greenhouse-gas emissions. By compiling benthic carbon-isotope records from sites in the Atlantic Ocean on a single timescale, we also find that meridional overturning circulation strengthened about 415,000 years ago, at a time of high orbital obliquity. We propose that this mechanism transported heat to the high northern latitudes, inhibiting significant ice-sheet build-up and prolonging interglacial conditions. We suggest that this mechanism may have also prolonged other interglacial periods throughout the past 800,000 years.

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Figure 1: Location of sites GeoB1720-2 (2859′ S,1350′ E, 1,997 m, this study), GeoB1720-3 (2859′ S, 1350′ E, 2,004 m, this study), ODP sites 1085 (292′ S, 136′ E, 1,713 m; ref. 18), 980 (55.3 N, 14.4 W, 2,170 m; refs 35, 43), 1063 (33.4 N, 57.4 W, 4,583 m; ref. 34) and 1089 (47.6 S, 9.5 E, 4,621 m; ref. 46), and MD01-2443 (37.5 N, 10.1 W; ref. 47).
Figure 2: Southeast Atlantic Ocean proxy data.
Figure 3: Comparison of published Atlantic Ocean benthic-δ13C records showing a ‘mid-MIS-11’ shift to higher values.
Figure 4: Magnitude of the mid-MIS-11 benthic-δ13C increase in different Atlantic Ocean records.
Figure 5: Comparison of insolation features and global climate proxies over the past 800 kyr.


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We would like to thank G. Mollenhauer and the IODP Bremen Core Repository for facilitating access to core material from GeoB1720-2/3 and Site-1085, M. Hall for running the stable isotope data for GeoB1720-2/3, I. Harrison for assistance in running alkenone samples and M. Leng for commenting on an early draft of the manuscript. This work was supported by an NERC PhD studentship awarded to A.J.D. (NER/S/A/2005/13226), NERC radiocarbon allocations 1194.1006 and 1235.1007 and NERC LSMSF grant lsmsfbris008.

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A.J.D. initiated the project, processed radiocarbon samples and alkenone samples from Site-1085 and GeoB1720, and wrote the manuscript. C.J.B. processed foraminifera isotope samples from GeoB1720. J.A.B. and C.D. processed alkenone samples from GeoB1720. All authors contributed to the interpretation of the results.

Correspondence to Alexander J. Dickson.

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Dickson, A., Beer, C., Dempsey, C. et al. Oceanic forcing of the Marine Isotope Stage 11 interglacial. Nature Geosci 2, 428–433 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo527

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