Glacial-Holocene carbonate dissolution and sea surface temperatures in the south China and Sulu seas


  • Qingmin Miao,

  • Robert C. Thunell,

  • David M. Anderson


Sediment cores from the South China and Sulu seas have been used to study sea surface temperature changes in these two western equatorial Pacific basins during the last 25,000 years. Sea surface temperature (SST) estimates were derived using the planktonic foraminiferal transfer function FP-12E previously developed by Thompson (1981). The water depths for the cores range from 500 m to more than 4,000 m and thus provide a good opportunity to evaluate the effect of carbonate dissolution on quantitative paleotemperature estimates. The sea surface temperature time series from shallow, well-preserved cores indicate that average winter and summer temperatures during the Holocene were approximately 27°C and 29.5°C, respectively, for both the South China and Sulu seas. These estimates agree well with modern observations. During the last glacial maximum, summer sea surface temperatures were approximately 28.5°C in the South China Sea and 29°C in the Sulu Sea and thus were very similar to the Holocene. In contrast, glacial winter sea surface temperatures are estimated at approximately 21°C for the South China Sea and 24°C for the Sulu Sea. This decrease in glacial winter sea surface temperatures results in a much larger seasonality during the last glacial (5°-8°C) compared to the Holocene (2°C). These seasonal contrasts are much greater than those estimated by Climate: Long-Range Investigation, Mapping, and Prediction Members (1981) for this region of the western equatorial Pacific. Variation in intensity of the monsoon system and surface water exchange rates between these basins and the open ocean are the major factors controlling glacial-interglacial SST fluctuations in the South China and Sulu seas. One factor influencing the accuracy of the SST estimates is the quality of preservation of the planktonic foraminiferal assemblages. Our results demonstrate that depth-dependent increases in dissolution result in systematically cooler SST estimates. This is due to the fact that warm water planktonic foraminifera tend to be more solution susceptible, and as dissolution progresses, the assemblage becomes enriched in the more resistant, cooler water taxa. Since dissolution is more intense during interglacials than glacials in the Pacific, dissolution tends to reduce the amplitude of the glacial-interglacial temperature difference.