Back to overview Show all

Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Climate of the Past
Volume (Issue) 16(2)
Page(s) 423 - 451
Title of proceedings Climate of the Past
DOI 10.5194/cp-16-423-2020

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


Abstract. Measurements of carbon isotope variations in climate archives and isotope-enabled climate modeling advance the understanding of the carbon cycle. Perturbations in atmospheric CO2 and in its isotopic ratios (δ13C, Δ14C) are removed by different processes acting on different timescales. We investigate these differences on timescales of up to 100 000 years in pulse-release experiments with the Bern3D-LPX Earth system model of intermediate complexity and by analytical solutions from a box model. On timescales from years to many centuries, the atmospheric perturbations in CO2 and δ13CO2 are reduced by air–sea gas exchange, physical transport from the surface to the deep ocean, and by the land biosphere. Isotopic perturbations are initially removed much faster from the atmosphere than perturbations in CO2 as explained by aquatic carbonate chemistry. On multimillennial timescales, the CO2 perturbation is removed by carbonate compensation and silicate rock weathering. In contrast, the δ13C perturbation is removed by the relentless flux of organic and calcium carbonate particles buried in sediments. The associated removal rate is significantly modified by spatial δ13C gradients within the ocean, influencing the isotopic perturbation of the burial flux. Space-time variations in ocean δ13C perturbations are captured by principal components and empirical orthogonal functions. Analytical impulse response functions for atmospheric CO2 and δ13CO2 are provided. Results suggest that changes in terrestrial carbon storage were not the sole cause for the abrupt, centennial-scale CO2 and δ13CO2 variations recorded in ice during Heinrich stadials HS1 and HS4, though model and data uncertainties prevent a firm conclusion. The δ13C offset between the Penultimate Glacial Maximum and Last Glacial Maximum reconstructed for the ocean and atmosphere is most likely caused by imbalances between weathering, volcanism, and burial fluxes. Our study highlights the importance of isotopic fluxes connected to weathering–sedimentation imbalances, which so far have been often neglected on glacial–interglacial timescales.