Milankovitch cycles in Neocene deep-sea sediment


  • Walter E. Dean,

  • James V. Gardner


Pelagic carbonate sediments from the world ocean basins commonly show cyclic variations in amount and/or degree of preservation of biogenic calcite, with periodicities of several tens to several hundreds of thousands of years. The direct causes of these cycles are fluctuations in noncarbonate dilution, carbonate production, carbonate dissolution, and/or current winnowing. The overall driving force, however, is variation in the earth's orbital characteristics (Milankovitch cycles) through their influence on global climate and depositional processes. The main inferred climatic effects of orbital perturbations are on global ice volume, global temperature, ocean circulation, and distribution of climatic patterns. Eustatic sea level is directly related to ice volume, as is the rate of erosion of clastic material from continental margins. Changes in volume of sea ice affect the volume and intensity of bottom water flow, which in turn may cause changes in the intensity of sediment winnowing by bottom currents, in the intensity of upwelling of nutrient-rich bottom waters, and in the depth of carbonate dissolution. Change in productivity of calcareous plankton are difficult to prove as a cause of carbonate cycles but may have contributed to the formation of carbonate cycles off northwest and southwest Africa. Fluctuations in winnowing of fine-grained components have been demonstrated as a cause of cyclic variations in the coarse-fraction component of carbonate sediments in the southwest Pacific. Dilution of carbonate by clastic material probably was a major cause of fluctuations in carbonate content of deep-sea sediments off northwest and southwest Africa. Carbonate dissolution cycles probably are the most common manifestation of fluctuations in bottom water flow. Dissolution cycles are common in Quaternary and Neogene sediments of the North Atlantic, Caribbean, and eastern equatorial Pacific. The main cause of the carbonate dissolution was shoaling of the carbonate compensation depth during the early Neogene in response to climatically induced fluctuations in the thickness of Antarctic Bottom Water.