North Atlantic paleoceanography: The last five million years



In the North Atlantic, cold, relatively salty water sinks in the icy Labrador and Greenland seas, forming North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW).This circulates through the global ocean, driving ocean overturning and global heat transport and, thus, impacting global climate. As one of the most climatically sensitive regions on Earth, the North Atlantic has experienced abrupt changes to its oceanatmosphere-cryosphere system, triggered by fluctuations in meltwater delivery to source areas of NADW formation.

For about the past 100 thousand years, these abrupt jumps in climate state have manifested as ‘Dansgaard/Oeschger’ (D/O) oscillations (millennial-scale warm-cold oscillations) and 'Heinrich' events in ice and marine sediment cores, respectively [e.g., Dansgaard et al., 1993; Bond and Lotti, 1995]. These Heinrich events are characterized as huge input of ice-rafted debris (IRD) and meltwater pulses, documenting episodes of sudden instability and collapse of the current Greenland ice sheets and the Laurentide ice sheet, the latter of which covered northern North America several times during the Pleistocene Epoch.