Scientists Find The Key To More Intense Ice Ages Lies Deep In The Southern Ocean

Source: Phys.org/University of Bern

Photo: Paul Carroll/Unsplash

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Over the last million years, ice ages have intensified and lengthened. According to a study led by the University of Bern, this previously unexplained climate transition coincides with a diminution of the mixing between deep and surface waters in the Southern Ocean. The study confirms that the Antarctic region plays a crucial role during periods of climate change.

An analysis of marine sediments collected at a depth of more than 2 km has just provided an answer to one of the riddles of the earth’s  history: the mid-Pleistocene transition, which began around one million years ago. Thereafter, ice ages lengthened and intensified, and the frequency of their cycles increased from 40,000 years to 100,000 years. The study, which appeared in the journal Science, shows one of the keys to this phenomenon lies in the  of the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica.

Ocean waters contain 60 times more carbon than the atmosphere. Consequently, small variations in the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration of the waters play a major role in climate transitions. Led by Samuel Jaccard, SNSF Professor at the University of Bern, the new study traced the evolution of mixing between deep and  waters in the Southern Ocean. Mixing is a major factor in the global climate system, because it brings oceanic CO2 to the surface, where it escapes into the atmosphere.

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Photo: Paul Carroll/Unsplash

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