OPP-PRF Investigating the Influence of Ocean Temperature on Antarctic Ice Sheet Evolution during the Early to Middle Pleistocene

Lead PI: Michelle Guitard

Unit Affiliation: Biology and Paleo Environment, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

October 2021 - September 2023
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: Antarctic Ice Sheet stability remains a large uncertainty in predicting future sea level. Presently, the greatest ice mass loss is observed in locations where relatively warm water comes into contact with glaciers and ice shelves, melting them from below. This has led researchers to hypothesize that the interactions that occur between the ocean and the ice are important for determining ice sheet stability and that increased warm water presence will accelerate Antarctic ice mass loss and lead to greater sea level rise in the coming century. To better predict future ice sheet behavior, it is critical to understand past ice-ocean interactions around Antarctica, especially during warm periods and at times when Earth’s climate was undergoing major changes. Past Antarctic ice mass and environmental conditions like ocean temperature can be reconstructed using sediments, which capture an environmental record as they accumulate on the ocean floor. By looking at sediment composition and by analyzing geochemical signatures within the sediment, it is possible to piece together a record of climate change on hundred- to million-year timescales. This project will reconstruct upper ocean temperatures and Antarctic ice retreat/advance cycles from 2.6 to 0.7 million years ago, which encompasses the Mid-Pleistocene Transition, a time in Earth’s history that marks the shift from 41-thousand year glacial cycles to 100-thousand year glacial cycles. A record will be generated from existing sediment cores collected from the Scotia Sea during International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 382.

The Mid-Pleistocene Transition (MPT; ~1.25–0.7 Ma) marks the shift from glacial-interglacial cycles paced by obliquity (~41 kyr cycles) to those paced by eccentricity (~100-kyr cycles). This transition occurred despite little variation in Earth’s orbital parameters, suggesting a role for internal climate feedbacks. The MPT was accompanied by decreasing atmospheric pCO2, increasing deep ocean carbon storage, and changes in deep water formation and distribution, all of which are linked to Antarctic margin atmosphere-ice-ocean interactions. However, Pleistocene records that document such interactions are rarely preserved on the shelf due to repeated Antarctic Ice Sheet (AIS) advance; instead, they are preserved in deep Southern Ocean basins. This project takes advantage of the excellent preservation and recovery of continuous Pleistocene sediment sequences collected from the Scotia Sea during International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 382 to test the following hypotheses: 1) Southern Ocean upper ocean temperatures vary on orbital timescales during the early to middle Pleistocene (2.6–0.7 Ma), and 2) Southern Ocean temperatures co-vary with AIS advance/retreat cycles. Paleotemperatures will be reconstructed using the TetraEther indeX of 86 carbons (TEX86), a proxy that utilizes marine archaeal biomarkers. The Scotia Sea TEX86-based paleotemperature record will be compared to records of AIS variability, including ice rafted debris. Expedition 382 records will be compared to orbitally paced climatic time series and the benthic oxygen isotope record of global ice volume and bottom water temperature to determine if a correlation exists between upper ocean temperature, AIS retreat/advance, and orbital climate forcing.