The temperature differences of that era, known as the late Eocene, between the equator and Antarctica were only half of what they are today. A debate has long been raging in the scientific community on what changes in our global climate system led to such a major shift from the more tropical, greenhouse climate of the Eocene to the modern and much cooler climates of today.
New research published in the journal Science, led by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute scientist Miriam Katz, is providing some of the strongest evidence to date that the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) played a key role in the major shift in the global climate that began approximately 38 million years ago. The research provides the first evidence that early ACC formation played a vital role in the formation of the modern ocean structure.
The paper, titled “Impact of Antarctic Circumpolar Current development on late Paleogene ocean structure,” is published in the May 27, 2011, issue of Science.
“What we have found is that the evolution of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current influenced global ocean circulation much earlier than previous studies have shown,” said Katz, who is assistant professor of earth and environmental science at Rensselaer. “This finding is particularly significant because it places the impact of initial shallow ACC circulation in the same interval when the climate began its long-term shift to cooler temperatures.”
There has been a debate over the past 40 years on what role the Antarctic Circumpolar Current had in the underlying cooling trend on Earth. Previous research has placed the development of the deep ACC (greater than 2,000 meters water depth) in the late Oligocene (approximately 23-25 million years ago). This is well after the global cooling pattern had been established. With this research, Katz and her colleagues used information from ocean sediments to place the global impact of the ACC to approximately 30 million years ago, when it was still just a shallow current.
Oceans and global temperatures are closely linked. Warmer ocean waters result in warmer air temperatures and vice versa. In the more tropical environs of the Eocene, ocean circulation was much weaker and currents were more diffuse. As a result, heat was more evenly distributed around the world. This resulted in fairly mild oceans and temperatures worldwide, according to Katz. Today, ocean temperatures vary considerably and redistribute warm and cold water around the globe in significant ways.
“As the global ocean currents were formed and strengthened, the redistribution of heat likely played a significant role in the overall cooling of the Earth,” Katz said.
And no current is more significant than the ACC. Often referred to as the “Mixmaster” of the ocean, the ACC thermally isolates Antarctica by preventing warm surface waters from subtropical gyres to pass through its current. The ACC instead redirects some of that warm surface water back up toward the North Atlantic, creating the Antarctic Intermediate Water. This blocking of heat enabled the formation and preservation of the Antarctic ice sheets, according to Katz. And it is this circumpolar circulation that Katz’s research concludes was responsible for the development of our modern four-layer ocean current and heat distribution system.
To come to her conclusions, Katz looked at the uptake of different elemental isotopes in the skeletons of small organisms found in ocean sediments. The organisms, known as benthic foraminifera, are found in extremely long cores of sediments drilled from the bottom of the ocean floor.
During their lifetime, foraminifera incorporate certain elements and elemental isotopes depending on environmental conditions. By analyzing the ratios of different isotopes and elements, the researchers are able to reconstruct the past environmental conditions that surrounded the foraminifera during their life. Specifically, they looked at isotopes of oxygen and carbon, along with ratios of magnesium versus calcium. More detailed information on Katz’s isotopic analysis methods can be found at http://green.rpi.edu/archives/fossils/index.html.
Analysis of these isotopes from sediment cores extracted directly off the North American Atlantic coast showed the earliest evidence for the Antarctic Intermediate Waters, which circulates strictly as a direct consequence of the ACC. This finding is the first evidence of the effects of shallow ACC formation. The findings place development of the ACC’s global impact much closer to the time that Antarctica separated from South America. It had previously been thought that the currents moving through this new continental gateway could not be strong enough at such shallow depths to affect global ocean circulation.
Katz points out that the larger cooling trend addressed in the paper has been punctuated by many short, but often significant, episodes of global warming. Such ancient episodes of warming are another significant aspect of her research program, and play an important role in understanding the modern warming of the climate occurring on the planet.
“By reconstructing the climates of the past, we can provide a science-based means to explore or predict possible system responses to the current climate change,” Katz said.
Katz is joined in the research by Benjamin Cramer of Theiss Research; J.R. Toggweiler of Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab/NOAA; Chengjie Liu of ExxonMobil Exploration Co.; Bridget Wade of University of Leeds; and Gar Esmay, Kenneth Miller, Yair Rosenthal, and James Wright of Rutgers University.
Gabrielle DeMarco | Newswise Science News
Further reports about: > Ancient African Exodus > Ancient Global Cooling > Antarctic ice sheet > Antarctica > Circumpolar > Earth's magnetic field > environmental conditions > global impact > global ocean > global ocean circulation > global temperature > ice sheet > mental conditions > ocean circulation > ocean sediments > ocean temperature > surface water > temperature difference
Early organic carbon got deep burial in mantle
25.04.2017 | Rice University
New atlas provides highest-resolution imagery of the Polar Regions seafloor
25.04.2017 | British Antarctic Survey
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
25.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
25.04.2017 | Materials Sciences
25.04.2017 | Life Sciences