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
A promising target in the quest for a 1-million-year-old Antarctic ice core
24.05.2018 | University of Washington
Tropical Peat Swamps: Restoration of Endangered Carbon Reservoirs
24.05.2018 | Leibniz-Zentrum für Marine Tropenforschung (ZMT)
The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.
Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...
A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.
The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
25.05.2018 | Event News
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering
25.05.2018 | Life Sciences