Fluctuations in Anoxia and the Depth of the Eastern Equatorial Pacific Thermocline Inferred from a 2000 Year Sediment Record of Water-Column Denitrification Off Baja California.

Monday, 15 December 2014
Alexander van Geen, Columbia University, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, NY, United States, Jacob Louis Mey IV, Columbia Univer-LDEO, Palisades, NY, United States, Robert Thunell, Univ South Carolina, Columbia, SC, United States, William Berelson, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, United States and Curtis A Deutsch, University of Washington Seattle Campus, Seattle, WA, United States
High-resolution records of sediment 15N at three sites along the western margin of North America were recently shown to indicate a gradual weakening of water-column denitrification and therefore anoxia from 1860 to 1990 followed by two decades of intensifying denitrification and anoxia (Deutsch et al., Science August 8, 2014). An ocean general circulation model driven by wind and buoyancy fluxes reproduces these variations for the last 50 years and mechanistically links them to changes in the depth of the thermocline in the eastern Pacific. The data-model comparison shows that strong denitrification and anoxia are associated with a shallow thermocline in the eastern equatorial Pacific and vice-versa. We present here a longer record of sediment 15N from one of the previously studied sites, Soledad basin, indicating that the period of particularly weak denitrification and anoxia in the eastern Pacific reached in the early 1990s was unprecedented for the past 2000 years. This supports the notion that a concomitant deepening of the thermocline during the 20th century simulated by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models may have been driven by the anthropogenic buildup of greenhouse gases. At the other end of the spectrum, the extended sediment 15N record indicates a period of particularly strong denitrification and anoxia extending from about 800 to 1200 AD. This coincides with the Medieval Warm Period of prolonged droughts indicated by tree-ring studies in the American West as well as reduced runoff recorded off coastal Peru. The particularly shallow thermocline inferred from the Soledad basin 15N record for this interval is consistent with the prolonged La Nina-like conditions in the equatorial Pacific that have been proposed to explain the Medieval droughts.