The asynchronous relationship between millennial-scale temperature changes over Greenland and Antarctica during the last glacial period has led to the notion of a bipolar seesaw which acts to redistribute heat depending on the state of meridional overturning circulation within the Atlantic Ocean. Here we present new records from the South Atlantic that show rapid changes during the last deglaciation that were instantaneous (within dating uncertainty) and of opposite sign to those observed in the North Atlantic. Our results demonstrate a direct link between the abrupt changes associated with variations in the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation and the more gradual adjustments characteristic of the Southern Ocean. These results emphasize the importance of the Southern Ocean for the development and transmission of millennial-scale climate variability and highlight its role in deglacial climate change and the associated rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Comment In: Nature. 2009 Feb 26;457(7233):1093-419242465
During the two most recent deglaciations, the Southern Hemisphere warmed before Greenland. At the same time, the northern Atlantic Ocean was exposed to meltwater discharge, which is generally assumed to reduce the formation of North Atlantic Deep Water. Yet during deglaciation, the Atlantic thermohaline circulation became more vigorous, in the transition from a weak glacial to a strong interglacial mode. Here we use a three-dimensional ocean circulation model to investigate the impact of Southern Ocean warming and the associated sea-ice retreat on the Atlantic thermohaline circulation. We find that a gradual warming in the Southern Ocean during deglaciation induces an abrupt resumption of the interglacial mode of the thermohaline circulation, triggered by increased mass transport into the Atlantic Ocean via the warm (Indian Ocean) and cold (Pacific Ocean) water route. This effect prevails over the influence of meltwater discharge, which would oppose a strengthening of the thermohaline circulation. A Southern Ocean trigger for the transition into an interglacial mode of circulation provides a consistent picture of Southern and Northern hemispheric climate change at times of deglaciation, in agreement with the available proxy records.