Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


'Ice age blob' of warm ocean water discovered south of Greenland


New research published in Scientific Reports in February indicates that a warm ocean surface water prevailed during the last ice age, sandwiched between two major ice sheets just south of Greenland.

Extreme climate changes in the past Ice core records show that Greenland went through 25 extreme and abrupt climate changes during the last ice age some 20.000 to 70.000 years ago. In less than 50 years the air temperatures over Greenland could increase by 10 to 15 °C.

Greenland experienced several abrupt and brutal climate changes during the last ice age. But even during the coldest periods a blob of warm surface water existed nearby.

Credit: M. Sojtaric/CAGE/

However the warm periods were short; within a few centuries the frigid temperatures of the ice age returned. That kind of climate change would have been catastrophic for us today. (link)

Ice core records from Antarctica also show climate changes in the same period, but they are more gradual, with less severe temperature swings.

The Nature Scientific Report study shows that an area of the Nordic Seas, just south of Iceland, followed the Antarctic pattern of warming and cooling. Which is strange since it is so close to Greenland.

"We had expected to see sudden climate changes. But sediment core records from the area show that the climate changes here were actually gradual, and quite identical to Antarctic climate changes." says CAGE professor Tine Rasmussen, the principal author of the paper.

Gulf Stream holds the answers

Then, as now, the circulation of Atlantic Ocean, with currents such as the Gulf Stream, regulated transportation of heat to this area. Simply put, the surface currents transport heat from the southern and tropical Atlantic toward the North Atlantic.

" The Nordic seas between Norway and Greenland play a crucial role for the current patterns of the Atlantic Ocean. They act as a pump. Here the warm and salty surface water cools down during winter. It becomes heavy and is pumped down to the bottom before returning to the Atlantic, where it continues as a deep current all the way to the Antarctic region. " co-author Erik Thomsen from Aarhus University ( link) points out.

Without this pump, the north-south current system would slow down considerably. Changes in this circulation can have a profound impact on the global climate system.

During the ice ages this circulation was assumed to work as a seesaw in the playground - going up and down in opposite directions with an axis somewhere around the equator. The idea is that when it warmed in the north, it cooled in the south and vice versa. But Rasmussen and colleagues indicate another scenario.

Rewriting the seesaw hypothesis

During the coldest periods of the last ice age the Nordic seas were covered with a permanent layer of sea ice. The pump stopped transporting the heat northward. The heat accumulated in the southern oceans. However, the warming was not restricted to the south.

" Our results show that it continued all the way to Iceland. The warming was slow and gradual, and happened simultaneously in both hemispheres. Little by little the warm Atlantic water penetrated into the Nordic sea underneath the ice cover. It melted the ice from below. Once the ice was gone, the pump started up again, bringing additional warm water into the Nordic seas. And we got a warmer period for 50 years. " says Rasmussen.

Large ice sheets continued however, to cover the continents around the Nordic seas. In contact with the warm ocean water they started calving. This delivered icebergs and fresh water into the sea and caused a cooling down of the surface water. The seas were again frozen. And the pump slowed down.

The warm ocean blob of the ice ages rewrites the understanding of the ocean circulation systems, and how they affected the extreme climate changes of the past. The seesaw was actually more of a 'push and pull' system.

"There are no symmetrical processes in the north and the south - the climate changes were principally governed by simultaneous warming and the constant closing and re-opening of the sink pump in the Nordic seas" says Tine Rasmussen.

Media Contact

Maja Sojtaric


Maja Sojtaric | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Antarctic CAGE Gulf Stream Hydrate climate changes ice age ocean water pump

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic
24.10.2016 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

nachricht Receding glaciers in Bolivia leave communities at risk
20.10.2016 | European Geosciences Union

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic

24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>