PhD Student, Australian National University
With 10% of the world's population living in coastal zones less than 10m above sea level (IPCC Report 2014), sea level rise is one of the major threats a changing climate is bringing to our planet. However, while we know sea levels are rising, we do not know how quickly this will happen. To improve our estimates for the future we must look at how Earth's sea levels have responded in the past to understand how our earth system behaves.
My project is concerned with improving estimates of past sea level. To do this I use sediment cores drilled from the seafloor, which are created from material building up at the bottom of the ocean over millions of years. Sediment cores contain microfossils of plankton, called foraminifera, which individually are smaller than grains of sand. During their lifetimes, foraminifera record information about the seawater around them, and store it in the chemical composition of their shells. When they die, foraminifera sink to the seafloor and are buried, preserving their shells and the information they contain. Over thousands of years, the sediment at the bottom of the ocean builds up, creating a chronological archive of foraminifera shells. By drilling sediment cores and retrieving these shells, we can access millions of years of climatic data. In particular, by measuring the oxygen isotope composition of foraminifera shells, we can reconstruct ice volume, and therefore also sea level, for the past.
My research is focused on sea-level reconstruction over the Mid-Plesitocene Transition (MPT) which occurred between approximately 0.7 and 1.2 million years ago. During the MPT, glacial-interglacials evolved from occurring over 41 thousand year cycles to 100 thousand year cycles, which implies there was a fundamental change in Earth’s climate system, which as yet, remains unexplained.
Abstract: Earth's climate underwent a fundamental change between 1250 and 700 thousand years ago, the mid-Pleistocene transition (MPT), when the dominant periodicity of climate cycles changed from 41 thousand to 100 thousand years in the absence of substantial change in orbital forcing. Over this time, an increase occurred in the amplitude of change of deep-ocean foraminiferal oxygen isotopic ratios, traditionally interpreted as defining the main rhythm of ice ages although containing large effects of changes in deep-ocean temperature. We have separated the effects of decreasing temperature and increasing global ice volume on oxygen isotope ratios. Our results suggest that the MPT was initiated by an abrupt increase in Antarctic ice volume 900 thousand years ago. We see no evidence of a pattern of gradual cooling, but near-freezing temperatures occur at every glacial maximum.
Pub.: 11 Aug '12, Pinned: 30 Oct '17
Abstract: Ice volume (and hence sea level) and deep-sea temperature are key measures of global climate change. Sea level has been documented using several independent methods over the past 0.5 million years (Myr). Older periods, however, lack such independent validation; all existing records are related to deep-sea oxygen isotope (δ(18)O) data that are influenced by processes unrelated to sea level. For deep-sea temperature, only one continuous high-resolution (Mg/Ca-based) record exists, with related sea-level estimates, spanning the past 1.5 Myr. Here we present a novel sea-level reconstruction, with associated estimates of deep-sea temperature, which independently validates the previous 0-1.5 Myr reconstruction and extends it back to 5.3 Myr ago. We find that deep-sea temperature and sea level generally decreased through time, but distinctly out of synchrony, which is remarkable given the importance of ice-albedo feedbacks on the radiative forcing of climate. In particular, we observe a large temporal offset during the onset of Plio-Pleistocene ice ages, between a marked cooling step at 2.73 Myr ago and the first major glaciation at 2.15 Myr ago. Last, we tentatively infer that ice sheets may have grown largest during glacials with more modest reductions in deep-sea temperature.
Pub.: 18 Apr '14, Pinned: 30 Oct '17
Abstract: On 10(3)- to 10(6)-year timescales, global sea level is determined largely by the volume of ice stored on land, which in turn largely reflects the thermal state of the Earth system. Here we use observations from five well-studied time slices covering the last 40 My to identify a well-defined and clearly sigmoidal relationship between atmospheric CO(2) and sea level on geological (near-equilibrium) timescales. This strongly supports the dominant role of CO(2) in determining Earth's climate on these timescales and suggests that other variables that influence long-term global climate (e.g., topography, ocean circulation) play a secondary role. The relationship between CO(2) and sea level we describe portrays the "likely" (68% probability) long-term sea-level response after Earth system adjustment over many centuries. Because it appears largely independent of other boundary condition changes, it also may provide useful long-range predictions of future sea level. For instance, with CO(2) stabilized at 400-450 ppm (as required for the frequently quoted "acceptable warming" of 2 °C), or even at AD 2011 levels of 392 ppm, we infer a likely (68% confidence) long-term sea-level rise of more than 9 m above the present. Therefore, our results imply that to avoid significantly elevated sea level in the long term, atmospheric CO(2) should be reduced to levels similar to those of preindustrial times.
Pub.: 08 Jan '13, Pinned: 30 Oct '17
Abstract: The ~100 k.y. cyclicity of the late Pleistocene ice ages started during the mid-Pleistocene transition (MPT), as ice sheets became larger and persisted for longer. The climate system feedbacks responsible for introducing this nonlinear ice sheet response to orbital variations in insolation remain uncertain. Here we present benthic foraminiferal stable isotope (18O, 13C) and trace metal records (Cd/Ca, B/Ca, U/Ca) from Deep Sea Drilling Project Site 607 in the North Atlantic. During the onset of the MPT, glacial-interglacial changes in 13C values are associated with changes in nutrient content and carbonate saturation state, consistent with a change in water mass at our site from a nutrient-poor northern source during interglacial intervals to a nutrient-rich, corrosive southern source during glacial intervals. The respired carbon content of glacial Atlantic deep water increased across the MPT. Increased dominance of corrosive bottom waters during glacial intervals would have raised mean ocean alkalinity and lowered atmospheric pCO2. The amplitude of glacial-interglacial changes in 13C increased across the MPT, but this was not mirrored by changes in nutrient content. We interpret this in terms of air-sea CO2 exchange effects, which changed the 13C signature of dissolved inorganic carbon in the deep water mass source regions. Increased sea ice cover or ocean stratification during glacial times may have reduced CO2 outgassing in the Southern Ocean, providing an additional mechanism for reducing glacial atmospheric pCO2. Conversely, following the establishment of the ~100 k.y. glacial cycles, 13C of interglacial northern-sourced waters increased, perhaps reflecting reduced invasion of CO2 into the North Atlantic following the MPT.
Pub.: 18 Nov '16, Pinned: 30 Oct '17
Abstract: Earth has undergone profound changes since the late Pliocene, which led to the development [approximately 2.7 million years ago (Ma)] and intensification (approximately 0.9 Ma) of large-scale Northern Hemisphere ice sheets, recorded as transitions in the benthic foraminiferal oxygen isotope (delta18Ob) record. Here we present an orbitally resolved record of deep ocean temperature derived from benthic foraminiferal magnesium/calcium ratios from the North Atlantic, which shows that temperature variations are a substantial portion of the global delta18Ob signal. The record shows two distinct cooling events associated with the late Pliocene (LPT, 2.5 to 3 Ma) and mid-Pleistocene (MPT, 1.2 to 0.85 Ma) climate transitions. Whereas the LPT increase in ice volume is attributed directly to global cooling, the shift to 100,000-year cycles at the MPT is more likely to be a response to an additional change in ice-sheet dynamics.
Pub.: 18 Jul '09, Pinned: 30 Oct '17
Abstract: We propose that from approximately 3 to 1 million years ago, ice volume changes occurred in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, each controlled by local summer insolation. Because Earth's orbital precession is out of phase between hemispheres, 23,000-year changes in ice volume in each hemisphere cancel out in globally integrated proxies such as ocean delta18O or sea level, leaving the in-phase obliquity (41,000 years) component of insolation to dominate those records. Only a modest ice mass change in Antarctica is required to effectively cancel out a much larger northern ice volume signal. At the mid-Pleistocene transition, we propose that marine-based ice sheet margins replaced terrestrial ice margins around the perimeter of East Antarctica, resulting in a shift to in-phase behavior of northern and southern ice sheets as well as the strengthening of 23,000-year cyclicity in the marine delta18O record.
Pub.: 24 Jun '06, Pinned: 30 Oct '17
Abstract: The pacing of glacial-interglacial cycles during the Quaternary period (the past 2.6 million years) is attributed to astronomically driven changes in high-latitude insolation. However, it has not been clear how astronomical forcing translates into the observed sequence of interglacials. Here we show that before one million years ago interglacials occurred when the energy related to summer insolation exceeded a simple threshold, about every 41,000 years. Over the past one million years, fewer of these insolation peaks resulted in deglaciation (that is, more insolation peaks were 'skipped'), implying that the energy threshold for deglaciation had risen, which led to longer glacials. However, as a glacial lengthens, the energy needed for deglaciation decreases. A statistical model that combines these observations correctly predicts every complete deglaciation of the past million years and shows that the sequence of interglacials that has occurred is one of a small set of possibilities. The model accounts for the dominance of obliquity-paced glacial-interglacial cycles early in the Quaternary and for the change in their frequency about one million years ago. We propose that the appearance of larger ice sheets over the past million years was a consequence of an increase in the deglaciation threshold and in the number of skipped insolation peaks.
Pub.: 24 Feb '17, Pinned: 30 Oct '17
Abstract: Theory and climate modelling suggest that the sensitivity of Earth's climate to changes in radiative forcing could depend on the background climate. However, palaeoclimate data have thus far been insufficient to provide a conclusive test of this prediction. Here we present atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) reconstructions based on multi-site boron-isotope records from the late Pliocene epoch (3.3 to 2.3 million years ago). We find that Earth's climate sensitivity to CO2-based radiative forcing (Earth system sensitivity) was half as strong during the warm Pliocene as during the cold late Pleistocene epoch (0.8 to 0.01 million years ago). We attribute this difference to the radiative impacts of continental ice-volume changes (the ice-albedo feedback) during the late Pleistocene, because equilibrium climate sensitivity is identical for the two intervals when we account for such impacts using sea-level reconstructions. We conclude that, on a global scale, no unexpected climate feedbacks operated during the warm Pliocene, and that predictions of equilibrium climate sensitivity (excluding long-term ice-albedo feedbacks) for our Pliocene-like future (with CO2 levels up to maximum Pliocene levels of 450 parts per million) are well described by the currently accepted range of an increase of 1.5 K to 4.5 K per doubling of CO2.
Pub.: 06 Feb '15, Pinned: 30 Oct '17
Abstract: The onset of major glaciations in the Northern Hemisphere about 2.7 million years ago was most probably induced by climate cooling during the late Pliocene epoch. These glaciations, during which the Northern Hemisphere ice sheets successively expanded and retreated, are superimposed on this long-term climate trend, and have been linked to variations in the Earth's orbital parameters. One intriguing problem associated with orbitally driven glacial cycles is the transition from 41,000-year to 100,000-year climatic cycles that occurred without an apparent change in insolation forcing. Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the transition, both including and excluding ice-sheet dynamics. Difficulties in finding a conclusive answer to this palaeoclimatic problem are related to the lack of sufficiently long records of ice-sheet volume or sea level. Here we use a comprehensive ice-sheet model and a simple ocean-temperature model to extract three-million-year mutually consistent records of surface air temperature, ice volume and sea level from marine benthic oxygen isotopes. Although these records and their relative phasings are subject to considerable uncertainty owing to limited availability of palaeoclimate constraints, the results suggest that the gradual emergence of the 100,000-year cycles can be attributed to the increased ability of the merged North American ice sheets to survive insolation maxima and reach continental-scale size. The oversized, wet-based ice sheet probably responded to the subsequent insolation maximum by rapid thinning through increased basal-sliding, thereby initiating a glacial termination. Based on our assessment of the temporal changes in air temperature and ice volume during individual glacials, we demonstrate the importance of ice dynamics and ice-climate interactions in establishing the 100,000-year glacial cycles, with enhanced North American ice-sheet growth and the subsequent merging of the ice sheets being key elements.
Pub.: 16 Aug '08, Pinned: 30 Oct '17
Abstract: 1) Three indices of global climate have been monitored in the record of the past 450,000 years in Southern Hemisphere ocean-floor sediments. 2) Over the frequency range 10(-4) to 10(-5) cycle per year, climatic variance of these records is concentrated in three discrete spectral peaks at periods of 23,000, 42,000, and approximately 100,000 years. These peaks correspond to the dominant periods of the earth's solar orbit, and contain respectively about 10, 25, and 50 percent of the climatic variance. 3) The 42,000-year climatic component has the same period as variations in the obliquity of the earth's axis and retains a constant phase relationship with it. 4) The 23,000-year portion of the variance displays the same periods (about 23,000 and 19,000 years) as the quasi-periodic precession index. 5) The dominant, 100,000-year climatic [See table in the PDF file] component has an average period close to, and is in phase with, orbital eccentricity. Unlike the correlations between climate and the higher-frequency orbital variations (which can be explained on the assumption that the climate system responds linearly to orbital forcing), an explanation of the correlation between climate and eccentricity probably requires an assumption of nonlinearity. 6) It is concluded that changes in the earth's orbital geometry are the fundamental cause of the succession of Quaternary ice ages. 7) A model of future climate based on the observed orbital-climate relationships, but ignoring anthropogenic effects, predicts that the long-term trend over the next sevem thousand years is toward extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation.
Pub.: 10 Dec '76, Pinned: 30 Oct '17
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