Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Changing climate: how dust changed the face of the earth

24.01.2014
The journal Science publishes results from a Polarstern expedition in the mostly unexplored South Pacific

In spring 2010, the research icebreaker Polarstern returned from the South Pacific with a scientific treasure - ocean sediments from a previously almost unexplored part of the South Polar Sea.


Eine Staubfahne weht von Australien aus in Richtung Südwestpazifik (Tasmanische See). Die meisten staubhaltigen Stürme reichen heute nicht über die Südostspitze Neuseelands hinaus in den Südozean. Aktuelle Sedimentdaten zeigen jedoch, dass der Staubeintrag in den pazifischen Teil des Südozeans in verganenen Eiszeiten wesentlich höher war. Graphik: Verändert NASA Visible Earth (http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=69212)

What looks like an inconspicuous sample of mud to a layman is, to geological history researchers, a valuable archive from which they can reconstruct the climatic history of the polar areas over many years of analysis. This, in turn, is of fundamental importance for understanding global climatic development.

With the help of the unique sediment cores from the Southern Ocean, it is now possible to provide complete evidence of how dust has had a major influence on the natural exchange between cold and warm periods in the southern hemisphere. An international research team under the management of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven was able to prove that dust infiltrations there were 2 to 3 times higher during all the ice ages in the last million years than in the warm phases in climatic history.

"High large-area dust supply can have an effect on the climate for two major reasons", explained Dr. Frank Lamy, geoscientist at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, about the findings. "Trace substances such as iron, which are essential for life, can be incorporated into the ocean through dust. This stimulates biological production and increases the sea's capacity to bind carbon.

The result is that the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is taken out of the atmosphere. In the atmosphere itself, dust reflects the sun's radiation and purely due to this it reduces the heat input into the Earth's system. Both effects lead to the fact that the Earth cools down."

Lamy is the main author of the study which will be published in the renowned Science journal on 24th January 2014. Other participants included geochemist Gisela Winckler from the US Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Bremen Centre for Marine Environmental Sciences MARUM.

The influence of dust supply on the climate changes between ice ages and warm periods has long been suspected. Climatic researchers always found particularly high dust content containing iron when the earth was going through an ice age, both in Antarctic ice cores and in sediment cores from the Atlantic part of the Southern Ocean. However, up to now there was no data available for the Pacific section, which covers 50% of the Southern Ocean.

"We can now close this central gap" is how Lamy underlines the importance of the new study. "The result is that we are now finding the same patterns in the South Pacific that we found in cores from the South Atlantic and the Antarctic ice. Therefore, the increased dust input was a phenomenon affecting the southern hemisphere during colder periods. This means that they now have to be considered differently when assessing the complex mechanisms which control natural climate changes."

What sounds almost incidental in Lamy's words is something of considerable relevance for research. This is because up to now many scientists were convinced that dust supply to the Pacific area could not have been higher during the ice ages than during warmer periods of the Earth's climate history. Where could larger dust quantities in this area of the Earth's oceans come from? Up to now, South Patagonia was suspected as a geological dust source since it is the only landmass in the Southern Ocean, intruding into it like a huge finger. However, since the wind predominating in this part of the world comes from the West, any dust particles in the air originating from South America mostly drift towards the Atlantic. For this reason, data from the South Pacific has been on scientists' wishlists for a long time.

However, the Pacific section of the Southern Ocean has remained something of a "terra incognita" for researchers despite modern technology. It is considered to be one of the most remote parts of the world's oceans. "The region is influenced by extreme storms and swells in which wave heights of 10 m or more are not uncommon. The area is also complicated from logistic point of view due to the huge distance between larger harbours" is how AWI scientist Dr. Rainer Gersonde, co-author and at the time leader of the Polarstern expedition, explains the extraordinary challenges faced by the research voyage. The Polarstern made a voyage of 10,000 nautical miles or 18,500 km through this particularly inhospitable part of the Antarctic Ocean in order to obtain high quality and sufficiently long sediment cores.

The question is, however, where did the historic dust freight towards the South Pacific come from, and why did the phases of increased input take place at all? Frank Lamy believes that one of the causes is the relocation or extension of the exceptionally strong wind belts prevalent in this region towards the Equator. The entire Southern Ocean is notorious amongst sailors for its powerful westerly winds - the "Roaring Forties" and the "Furious Fifties". It is considered to be one of the windiest regions in the world. The scientists' theory is that a relocation or extension of this powerful westerly wind belt towards the North could have caused the extended dry areas on the Australian continent to be influenced by stronger wind erosion. The result was higher dust infiltration into the Pacific Ocean - with the consequences described above. On top of this, New Zealand was an additional dust source. The extended glaciation of the mountains there during the ice age provided considerable quantities of fine-grained material which was then blown far out into the South Pacific by the winds.

"Our investigations have now proved without a doubt that colder periods in the southern hemisphere over a period of 1 million years always and almost everywhere coincided, , with lower carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere and higher dust supply from the air. The climatic history of the Earth was, therefore, written in dust."

Notes for Editors:

Original title: “Increased Dust Deposition in the Pacific Southern Ocean During Glacial Periods” F. Lamy et al., "Science", 24 January 2014 (DOI: 10.1126/science.1245424). You can find print-quality images and a video at http://www.awi.de/index.php?id=7066&L=1.

Your contacts at the Alfred Wegener Institute are Dr. Frank Lamy, tel. +49 471 4831- 2124 (e-mail: Frank.Lamy@awi.de) and Ralf Röchert, Department of Communications and Media Relations, tel. +49 471 4831-1680 (e-mail: medien@awi.de).

Follow the Alfred Wegener Institute on Twitter and Facebook to receive up-to-date news and information about everyday life at the Institute.

The Alfred Wegener Institute researches in the Arctic, the Antarctic and oceans in the central and high latitudes. It coordinates polar research in Germany and provides important infrastructure such as the research icebreaker Polarstern and stations in the Arctic and Antarctic for the international science community. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the 18 research centres belonging to the Helmholtz Association, which is Germany's largest scientific organisation.

Ralf Röchert | idw
Further information:
http://www.awi.de

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Extending climate predictability beyond El Niño
21.04.2015 | University of Hawaii ‑ SOEST

nachricht Comparing Climate Models to Real World Shows Differences in Precipitation Intensity
17.04.2015 | Department of Energy, Office of Science

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: On the trail of a trace gas

Max Planck researcher Buhalqem Mamtimin determines how much nitrogen oxide is released into the atmosphere from agriculturally used oases.

In order to make statements about current and future air pollution, scientists use models which simulate the Earth’s atmosphere. A lot of information such as...

Im Focus: Advances in Molecular Electronics: Lights On – Molecule On

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) and the University of Konstanz are working on storing and processing information on the level of single molecules to create the smallest possible components that will combine autonomously to form a circuit. As recently reported in the academic journal Advanced Science, the researchers can switch on the current flow through a single molecule for the first time with the help of light.

Dr. Artur Erbe, physicist at the HZDR, is convinced that in the future molecular electronics will open the door for novel and increasingly smaller – while also...

Im Focus: Pruning of Blood Vessels: Cells Can Fuse With Themselves

Cells of the vascular system of vertebrates can fuse with themselves. This process, which occurs when a blood vessel is no longer necessary and pruned, has now been described on the cellular level by Prof. Markus Affolter from the Biozentrum of the University of Basel. The findings of this study have been published in the journal “PLoS Biology”.

The vascular system is the supply network of the human organism and delivers oxygen and nutrients to the last corners of the body. So far, research on the...

Im Focus: Astronomers reveal supermassive black hole's intense magnetic field

Astronomers from Chalmers University of Technology have used the giant telescope Alma to reveal an extremely powerful magnetic field very close to a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy

Astronomers from Chalmers University of Technology have used the giant telescope Alma to reveal an extremely powerful magnetic field very close to a...

Im Focus: A “pin ball machine” for atoms and photons

A team of physicists from MPQ, Caltech, and ICFO proposes the combination of nano-photonics with ultracold atoms for simulating quantum many-body systems and creating new states of matter.

Ultracold atoms in the so-called optical lattices, that are generated by crosswise superposition of laser beams, have been proven to be one of the most...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

HHL's Entrepreneurship Conference on FinTech

13.04.2015 | Event News

World Conference On Regenerative Medicine 2015: Registration And Abstract Submission Now Open

25.03.2015 | Event News

University presidents from all over the world meet in Hamburg

19.03.2015 | Event News

 
Latest News

Participation sought: new citizen science project

21.04.2015 | Life Sciences

Decreasing biodiversity affects productivity of remaining plants

21.04.2015 | Life Sciences

OSU innovation boosts Wi-Fi bandwidth tenfold

21.04.2015 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>