Theses Doctoral

Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation instabilities during the last glacial cycle

Zhou, Yuxin

The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is thought to exert considerable influence over the climate via heat redistribution and carbon storage. Its repeated variations along with the regional and global climate during the last glacial cycle suggest that the state of the AMOC may be roughly divided into “warm,” “cold,” and “off” modes. The three modes correspond to the vigorous deepwater formation in the subpolar North Atlantic, a reduced deepwater formation, and the widespread disruption of the AMOC, respectively. Questions remain about the cause and response of AMOC perturbations in each of the three modes.Reconstruction of the burial flux of ice-rafted debris can resolve questions about the timing and rates of ice sheet calving, which may have been responsible for the “off” mode of the AMOC, given the association of freshwater forcing with AMOC strength. The first chapter quantified the flux of ice-rafted debris in a pair of cores collected from sites in the western North Atlantic. The results show higher ice-rafted debris flux during all Heinrich events and that the western North Atlantic fluxes were higher than the east. The data demonstrate that the Laurentide Ice Sheet played a role in all Heinrich events.

A catastrophic last interglacial Laurentide outburst (LILO) event some 125,000 years ago (125 ka) may have contributed to abrupt climate change during the Eemian, when the AMOC was in the “warm” mode. The LILO event was previously proposed to be an analog of the Holocene 8.2 ka event. The second chapter investigated the age and chemical compositions of a layer of red sediments deposited across much of the Northwest Atlantic at 125 ka. The results provide strong support for the occurrence of the LILO event that was analogous to the 8.2 ka event in provenance, timing, and delivery.

Little is known about the zonal (east/west) characteristics of the AMOC when in the “cold” mode during the Last Glacial Maximum. Authigenic uranium preserved in sediments is a sensitive redox tracer and can shed light on bottom water oxygen, carbon storage, and water mass distributions. In the third chapter, new and published authigenic uranium data were used to reconstruct deep ocean oxygenation. The compilation shows that lower-than-Holocene oxygen and correspondingly greater respired carbon storage were persistent features of the LGM in the deep North Atlantic. The eastern basin was substantially less well oxygenated than the west. A farther advance and greater infilling in the east of deep waters originating from the Southern Ocean may have caused the zonal difference. Alternatively, deep waters originating from the subpolar North Atlantic may have increased in their residence time in the eastern transect.

Questions remain about the flux of freshwater necessary to induce the AMOC to enter the “off” mode. Existing estimates do not agree on the freshwater fluxes associated with Heinrich events. The fourth chapter uses compiled 230Thxs-based mass fluxes in the North Atlantic during the last glacial period to calculate the surge mass fluxes as a measure of the rate of ice-rafted debris deposition. The surge mass fluxes were then converted into freshwater fluxes. Freshwater fluxes for an arbitrarily defined 2000-year period and total freshwater volumes between 20° and 70° N were as high as 0.11 Sv and 6.9 × 1015 m³ during Heinrich event 4 and as low as 0.0012 Sv and 7.6 × 1013 m³ during Heinrich event 3. The relatively low freshwater fluxes we reconstructed for Heinrich events might suggest potentially a high sensitivity of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation to freshwater perturbations, although the freshwater volumes are in line with previous reconstructions. Our project represents the first time an attempt made to reconstruct the freshwater fluxes and volumes during all Heinrich events of the last glacial period.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Thesis Advisors
McManus, Jerry F.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 3, 2022