Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


UF research gives clues about carbon dioxide patterns at end of Ice Age

New University of Florida research puts to rest the mystery of where old carbon was stored during the last glacial period. It turns out it ended up in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean near Antarctica.

The findings have implications for modern-day global warming, said Ellen Martin, a UF geological sciences professor and an author of the paper, which is published in this week’s journal Nature Geoscience.

“It helps us understand how the carbon cycle works, which is important for understanding future global warming scenarios,” she said. “Ultimately, a lot of the carbon dioxide that we’re pumping into the atmosphere is going to end up in the ocean. By understanding where that carbon was stored in the past and the pathways it took, we develop a better understanding of how much atmospheric carbon dioxide the oceans can absorb in the future.”

Scientists know that during the transition from the last glacial period to the current inter-glacial period about 14,000 years ago, carbon dioxide levels rose very quickly at the same time that the age of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere fell, as measured by radiocarbon data. That suggests carbon dioxide had been stored in the ocean and suddenly released, she said.

One idea holds that it was building up in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, where extensive sea ice on the surface of the ocean initially prevented the exchange of gasses into the atmosphere, Martin said. The other possibility is that the same process occurred in the Northern Hemisphere with ice sheets in the North Pacific Ocean, she said.

In her lab, Martin and lead author Chandranath Basak, a UF graduate student in geological sciences; Keiji Horikawa, a UF postdoctoral fellow in geological sciences; and Thomas Marchitto, a University of Colorado geology professor, studied that question by using a technique to measure isotopes of neodymium, a rare earth element not commonly found in marine sediments but preserved in microscopic fossil fish teeth. The isotopic signature of a water mass, which is captured in the fish teeth, reflects the location where the water mass came from, she said.

“It’s essentially what we call a water mass tracer,” Martin said. “You can tell where the water masses have formed and where they have moved to by using this tracer.”

The researchers took samples that had been shown to have old carbon in them and measured the neodymium isotopes on fish teeth from the sediments to see if they could reconstruct whether they had come from the North Pacific or the Southern Ocean, she said.

“When we did this, we got a signal that looks very much like the Southern Ocean,” she said. “It implies that all the carbon was being stored in the Southern Hemisphere and as the ice sheet melted back, it released that carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, causing part of the big increase in carbon dioxide and introducing old carbon back into the atmosphere.”

By giving information about environmental conditions during the last glacial period, the research findings can help scientists to reconstruct what the world was like at that time, she said.

The implications are that while large amounts of carbon could be stored in the ocean when there was a great deal of sea ice, the opposite is the case in a world that is warming, with less ice, which allows more carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere, Martin said. Thus, in a warming scenario the oceans may not be able to store as much carbon dioxide as they could under glacial conditions

The oceans are a critical part of the carbon dioxide cycle, Martin said. “The oceans have 60 times more carbon dioxide in them than the atmosphere, so when we worry about what’s happening with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we often look to the oceans as a potential source or sink.”

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere during the glacial periods was about 200 parts per million, compared with 280 parts per million during a typical interglacial period, Martin said. Today that level has soared to about 380 parts per million, she said.

The time period that encompasses the last glacial period to the current interglacial period when carbon dioxide levels went up very quickly is often referred to as the “mystery interval” because scientists hadn’t known where the carbon was stored, Martin said.

“Now we have a better understanding of how the system worked,” she said.

Cathy Keen,, 352-392-0186
Ellen Martin,, 352-392-2141

Ellen Martin | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht UCI and NASA document accelerated glacier melting in West Antarctica
26.10.2016 | University of California - Irvine

nachricht Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere
25.10.2016 | American Geophysical 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: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

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...

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

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>