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.