Evidence bearing on the mechanism of rapid deglaciation

Research paper by W. F. Ruddiman, B. Molfino, A. Esmay, E. Pokras

Indexed on: 01 Mar '80Published on: 01 Mar '80Published in: Climatic change


Six northeast Atlantic cores contain planktonic foraminiferal records implying a very abrupt glacial/interglacial surface-ocean warming roughly coincident with the last deglaciation (isotopic termination II) at 127 000 yr B.P. These faunal composition curves have, however, been substantially altered by sediment mixing processes on the sea floor; they are translated downward in the core record and made to look steeper than they actually were. The reason for this abnormally large mixing impact is an interval of sediment with very low to negligible concentrations of all microfossils (surface ocean and bottom living). These low concentrations reflect a several-thousand-year interval of low productivity and little or no life in the overlying surface waters.We interpret this thorough suppression of productivity as a consequence of meltwater and icebergs flooding into the subpolar Atlantic gyre from the surrounding Northern Hemisphere ice sheets during deglaciation. The meltwater influx inhibited warm-season productivity by maintaining a well-stratified low-salinity surface layer; in winter, the low salinity layer froze, stopping nutrientrich deep waters from surfacing in normal cold-season convection.The earth's orbital configuration during this deglaciation created an unusually strong summer insolation maximum and winter insolation minimum in the Northern Hemisphere. Rapid melting and disintegration of the Northern Hemisphere ice sheets induced by strong summer insolation apparently created the meltwater influx; combined with very low winter insolation, the presence of this low-salinity meltwater layer led to unusually extensive sea-ice formation.The existence of a large region of winter sea ice across the subpolar North Atlantic during deglaciation implies a reduced supply of moisture in winter to the wasting Northern Hemisphere ice sheets. This includes the loss of winter moisture both locally from ice-covered northern waters and regionally from low-latitude winter storms no longer penetrating northward. The winter sea-ice cover thus acts as an amplifier providing positive feedback to the insolation-driven deglaciation process.