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Snapshots of mean ocean temperature over the last 700 000 years using noble gases in the EPICA Dome C ice core

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Haeberli Marcel, Baggenstos Daniel, Schmitt Jochen, Grimmer Markus, Michel Adrien, Kellerhals Thomas, Fischer Hubertus,
Project iCEP - Climate and Environmental Physics: Innovation in ice core science
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Climate of the Past
Volume (Issue) 17(2)
Page(s) 843 - 867
Title of proceedings Climate of the Past
DOI 10.5194/cp-17-843-2021

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


Abstract. Together with the latent heat stored in glacial ice sheets, the ocean heat uptake carries the lion's share of glacial–interglacial changes in the planetary heat content, but little direct information on the global mean ocean temperature (MOT) is available to constrain the ocean temperature response to glacial–interglacial climate perturbations. Using ratios of noble gases and molecular nitrogen trapped in the Antarctic EPICA Dome C ice core, we are able to reconstruct MOT for peak glacial and interglacial conditions during the last 700 000 years and explore the differences between these extrema. To this end, we have to correct the noble gas ratios for gas transport effects in the firn column and gas loss fractionation processes of the samples after ice core retrieval using the full elemental matrix of N2, Ar, Kr, and Xe in the ice and their individual isotopic ratios. The reconstructed MOT in peak glacials is consistently about 3.3 ± 0.4 ∘C cooler compared to the Holocene. Lukewarm interglacials before the Mid-Brunhes Event 450 kyr ago are characterized by 1.6 ± 0.4 ∘C lower MOT than the Holocene; thus, glacial–interglacial amplitudes were only about 50 % of those after the Mid-Brunhes Event, in line with the reduced radiative forcing by lower greenhouse gas concentrations and their Earth system feedbacks. Moreover, we find significantly increased MOTs at the onset of Marine Isotope Stage 5.5 and 9.3, which are coeval with CO2 and CH4 overshoots at that time. We link these CO2 and CH4 overshoots to a resumption of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, which is also the starting point of the release of heat previously accumulated in the ocean during times of reduced overturning.