Surface water temperature, salinity, and density changes in the northeast Atlantic during the last 45,000 years: Heinrich events, deep water formation, and climatic rebounds


  • M. A. Maslin,

  • N. J. Shackleton,

  • U. Pflaumann


We developed a new method to calculate sea surface salinities (SSS) and densities (SSD) from planktonic foraminiferal δ18O and sea surface temperatures (SST) as determined from planktonic foraminiferal species abundances. SST, SSS, and SSD records were calculated for the last 45,000 years for Biogeochemical Oceanic Flux Study (BOFS) cores 5K and 8K recovered from the northeast Atlantic. The strongest feature is the dramatic drop in all three parameters during the Heinrich “ice-rafting” events. We modelled the possibility of deepwater formation in die northeast Atlantic from the SSD records, by assuming that the surface waters at our sites cooled as they flowed further north. Comparison with modelled North Atlantic deepwater densities indicates that there could have been periods of deepwater formation between 45,000 and 30,000 14C years B.P. (interrupted by iceberg meltwater input of Heinrich event 3 and 4, at 27,000 and 38,000 14C years B.P.) and during the Holocene. No amount of cooling in the northeast Atlantic between 30,000 and 13,000 years could cause deep water to form, because of the low salinities resulting from the high meltwater inputs from icebergs. Our records indicate that after each Heinrich event there were periods of climatic rebound, with milder conditions persisting for up to 2000 years, as indicated by the presence of warmer and more saline water masses. After these warm periods conditions returned to average glacial levels. These short term cold and warm episodes in the northeast Atlantic are superimposed on the general trend towards colder conditions of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Heinrich event 1 appears to be unique as it occurs as insolation rose and was coeval with the initial melting of the Fennoscandian ice sheet. We propose that meltwater input of Heinrich event 1 significantly reduced North Atlantic Deep Water formation, reducing the heat exchange between the low and high latitudes, thus delaying deglaciation by about 1500 radiocarbon years (2000 calendar years).