Multi-Centennial Record of North Atlantic Freshwater Variability since the Little Ice Age Archived in Coralline Algal Ba/Ca

Friday, 19 December 2014: 11:20 AM
Phoebe Tsz-Wai Chan1, Jochen Halfar1, Walter Adey2 and Thomas Zack3, (1)University of Toronto, Earth Sciences, Toronto, ON, Canada, (2)National Museum of Natural History, Botany, Washington, DC, United States, (3)University of Gothenburg, Earth Sciences, Gothenburg, Sweden
Declining Arctic sea-ice cover in recent decades has driven large-scale freshwater transport into the North Atlantic, possibly influencing the strength of the Meridional Overturning Circulation and even global climate. However, due to the lack of long-term oceanographic observations, little is known about the natural freshwater variability of the Northwestern Atlantic. Crustose coralline algae Clathromorphum compactum are extremely long-lived shallow marine calcareous plants that are abundant along the subarctic eastern Canadian coastline. They are particularly well-suited as recorders of paleoclimate signals due to the formation of annual growth increments, allowing for the precise calendar dating and geochemical sampling of hard tissue. Here, we provide the first annually-resolved multi-centennial record of coralline algal Ba/Ca from Labrador, Canada, as a proxy for North Atlantic freshwater variability extending well into the Little Ice Age (LIA) (1665 AD). Barium-to-calcium ratios (Ba/Ca) from coralline algae have previously been used as an indicator of freshwater runoff. This is because barium-rich clay sediments are transported by terrestrial runoff into coastal waters, and barium is released from the clay minerals upon encountering more alkaline elements present in seawater. We observe higher algal barium concentrations during the LIA, followed by a steady decline to recent times. In addition, coralline algal Ba/Ca shows significant positive relationships to Hudson Strait runoff, as well as Canadian Arctic and North Atlantic sea-ice extent. This suggests that more riverine Ba is transported from the Hudson Strait into the Labrador Sea during periods of increased sea-ice cover. Multiyear sea-ice can block incoming solar radiation thereby diminishing the effects of nutrient scavenging by phytoplankton, resulting in a more conservative transport of Ba into northern Labrador. However as sea-ice continues to thin, more sunlight is able to penetrate through the ice pack, thereby promoting near-surface plankton production. Therefore, the recent decline in coralline algal Ba/Ca indicates decreased Hudson Strait runoff (as also shown by instrumental records) amplified by increased biological scavenging of Ba, resulting from the ongoing thinning and loss of Canadian Arctic sea-ice.