• mystery interval;
  • radiocarbon;
  • deglacial;
  • carbon cycle;
  • ocean ventilation

Severely negative Δ14C anomalies from the mid-depth Pacific and the Arabian Sea have been taken as support for the hypothesized deglacial release of a previously isolated, extremely 14C-deplete deep ocean carbon reservoir. We report box model simulations that cast doubt on both the existence of the hypothesized deep reservoir and its ability to explain the mid-depth Δ14C anomalies. First, the degree of ice age isolation needed to substantially reduce the deep Δ14C of the deep reservoir causes anoxia and the trapping of alkalinity from CaCO3 dissolution, the latter increasing atmospheric CO2. Second, even with a completely 14C-free deep reservoir, achieving the mid-depth Δ14C anomalies of observed duration requires ad hoc stifling of aspects of deep circulation to prevent rapid dissipation of the anomalous 14C-free carbon to the rest of the ocean and the atmosphere. We suggest that the mid-depth anomalies do not record basin-scale Δ14C changes but are instead local phenomena.