Comparing Terrestrial Organic Carbon Cycle Dynamics in Interglacial and Glacial Climates in the South American Tropics

Monday, 15 December 2014: 9:30 AM
Kyrstin L Fornace1,2, Valier Galy2 and Konrad A Hughen2, (1)Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, United States, (2)WHOI, Woods Hole, MA, United States
The application of compound-specific radiocarbon dating to molecular biomarkers has allowed for tracking of specific organic carbon pools as they move through the environment, providing insight into complex processes within the global carbon cycle. Here we use this technique to investigate links between glacial-interglacial climate change and terrestrial organic carbon cycling in the catchments of Cariaco Basin and Lake Titicaca, two tropical South American sites with well-characterized climate histories since the last glacial period. By comparing radiocarbon ages of terrestrial biomarkers (leaf wax compounds) with deposition ages in late glacial and Holocene sediments, we are able to gauge the storage time of these compounds in the catchments in soils, floodplains, etc. before transport to marine or lacustrine sediments. We are also able to probe the effects of temperature and hydrologic change individually by taking advantage of opposite hydrologic trends at the two sites: while both were colder during the last glacial period, precipitation at Titicaca decreased from the last glacial period to the Holocene, but the late glacial was marked by drier conditions at Cariaco. Preliminary data from both sites show a wide range of apparent ages of long-chain n-fatty acids (within error of 0 to >10,000 years older than sediment), with the majority showing ages on the order of several millennia at time of deposition and age generally increasing with chain length. While late glacial leaf waxes appear to be older relative to sediment than those deposited in the Holocene at both sites, at Cariaco we find a ~2-3 times larger glacial-interglacial age difference than at Titicaca. We hypothesize that at Titicaca the competing influences of wetter and colder conditions during the last glacial period, which respectively tend to increase and decrease the rate of organic carbon turnover on land, served to minimize the contrast between glacial and interglacial leaf wax storage time compared to Cariaco where temperature and hydrologic change may have acted in concert on the rate of terrestrial carbon turnover. This study has important implications for understanding the effects of large climate change on terrestrial carbon storage, as well as applications of terrestrial biomarkers for paleoclimate records.