A long history of equatorial deep-water upwelling in the Pacific Ocean

Published on Earth Planet. Sci. Lett, 2017, 467, 1-9. 


Graphical Abstract_Small


Cold, nutrient- and CO2-rich waters upwelling in the eastern equatorial Pacific (EEP) give rise to the Pacific cold tongue. Quasi-periodic subsidence of the thermocline and attenuation in wind strength expressed by El Niño conditions decrease upwelling rates, increase surface-water temperatures in the EEP, and lead to changes in regional climates both near and far from the equatorial Pacific. EEP surface waters have elevated CO2 concentrations during neutral (upwelling) or La Niña (strong upwelling) conditions. In contrast, approximate air-sea CO2 equilibrium characterizes El Niño events. One hypothesis proposes that changes in physical oceanography led to the establishment of a deep tropical thermocline and expanded mixed-layer prior to 3 million years ago. These effects are argued to have substantially reduced deep-water upwelling rates in the EEP and promoted a “permanent El Niño-like” climate state. For this study, we test this supposition by reconstructing EEP “excess CO2” and upwelling history for the past 6.5 million years using the alkenone-pCO2 methodology. Contrary to previous assertions, our results indicate that average temporal conditions in the EEP over the past ~6.5 million years were characterized by substantial CO2 disequilibrium and high nutrient delivery to surface waters — characteristics that imply strong upwelling of deep waters. Upwelling appears most vigorous between ~6.5 to 4.5 million years ago coinciding with high accumulation rates of biogenic material during the late Miocene – early Pliocene “biogenic bloom”.


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