In a box model synthesis of Southern Ocean and North Atlantic mechanisms for lowering CO2 during ice ages, the CO2 changes are parsed into their component geochemical causes, including the soft-tissue pump, the carbonate pump, and whole ocean alkalinity. When the mechanisms are applied together, their interactions greatly modify the net CO2 change. Combining the Antarctic mechanisms (stratification, nutrient drawdown, and sea ice cover) within bounds set by observations decreases CO2 by no more than 36 ppm, a drawdown that could be caused by any one of these mechanisms in isolation. However, these Antarctic changes reverse the CO2 effect of the observed ice age shoaling of North Atlantic overturning: in isolation, the shoaling raises CO2 by 16 ppm, but alongside the Antarctic changes, it lowers CO2 by an additional 13 ppm, a 29 ppm synergy. The total CO2 decrease does not reach 80 ppm, partly because Antarctic stratification, Antarctic sea ice cover, and the shoaling of North Atlantic overturning all strengthen the sequestration of alkalinity in the deepest ocean, which increases CO2 both by itself and by decreasing whole ocean alkalinity. Increased nutrient consumption in the sub-Antarctic causes as much as an additional 35 ppm CO2 decrease, interacting minimally with the other changes. With its inclusion, the lowest ice age CO2 levels are within reach. These findings may bear on the two-stepped CO2 decrease of the last ice age.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Global and Planetary Change
- Environmental Chemistry
- Environmental Science(all)
- Atmospheric Science