Repository logo

Radiocarbon constraints on the glacial ocean circulation and its impact on atmospheric CO$_2$

Published version



Change log


Skinner, LC 
Primeau, F 
Freeman, E 
de la Fuente, M 
Goodwin, PA 


While the ocean's large-scale overturning circulation is thought to have been significantly different under the climatic conditions of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), the exact nature of the glacial circulation and its implications for global carbon cycling continue to be debated. Here we use a global array of ocean-atmosphere radiocarbon disequilibrium estimates to demonstrate a ~689±53 14C-yr increase in the average residence time of carbon in the deep ocean at the LGM. A predominantly southern-sourced abyssal overturning limb that was more isolated from its shallower northern counterparts is interpreted to have extended from the Southern Ocean, producing a widespread radiocarbon age maximum at mid-depths and depriving the deep ocean of a fast escape route for accumulating respired carbon. While the exact magnitude of the resulting carbon cycle impacts remains to be confirmed, the radiocarbon data suggest an increase in the efficiency of the biological carbon pump that could have accounted for as much as half of the glacial-interglacial CO2 change.



0405 Oceanography

Journal Title

Nature Communications

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title



Springer Nature
Natural Environment Research Council (NE/L006421/1)
This work was made possible by NERC grant NE/L006421/1, and was supported by NERC radiocarbon analysis allocation number 1245.1007, as well as the Royal Society and the Cambridge Isaac Newton Trust.