Microscopic view on marine plankton. Credit: A. Stuhr, GEOMAR.
Fluctuations in the orbital parameters of the Earth are considered to be the trigger for long-term climatic fluctuations such as ice ages. This includes the variation of the inclination of the Earth's axis with a cycle of about 40,000 years. Kiel-based marine scientists lead by GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel shown by using a new model that biogeochemical interactions between ocean and atmosphere could also be responsible for climate fluctuations on this time scale.
The climate history of the earth is market by periodic changes that are usually referred to as solar radiation reaching the surface of the earth. This insolation is not constant over geological time but modulated by cyclic changes in the Earth's orbital parameters. One of the key parameters affecting insolation is the tilt of the Earth's rotation axis (obliquity) that changes periodically over time with a cycle length of about 40,000 years. Chemical and isotopic signatures of sediments that were deposited during the Cretaceous and other periods of Earth's history document regular changes in temperature and carbon cycling on this time scale. The 40 kilo cycles observed in the geological climate archives are believed to be the result of obliquity-triggered insolation changes affecting the surface temperature, the circulation of ocean and atmosphere, the hydrological cycle, the biosphere and ultimately the carbon cycle. One of the problems with this standard theory is that changes in global insolation are very small and have to be amplified by poorly understood positive feedback mechanisms to affect global climate
A group of scientists from Kiel, Germany propose a very different perspective that emerging from a new numerical model of the marine biosphere. It simulates the turnover of plankton biomass in the ocean and resolves the associated microbial oxidation and reduction reactions controlling the standing stocks of dissolved oxygen, sulphide, nutrients and plankton in the ocean. In their model experiments the scientists found surprisingly a self-sustained 40 kyr climate cycle using the biogeochemical model integrated in a circulation model of the Cretaceous Ocean without applying obliquity forcing.
"In our model, the carbon cycle is largely controlled by plankton living in the surface ocean, "explains Prof. Dr. Klaus Wallmann from GEOMAR, lead author of the study which was recently published in Nature Geoscience . Plankton consumes atmospheric CO via photosynthesis and by microorganisms that degraded plankton biomass and release CO 2 back into the atmosphere. Since CO 2 is a potent greenhouse gas, the biological CO 2 [turnover] affects surface temperatures and global climate. The growth of plankton is controlled by nutrients that take part in a range of microbial oxidation and reduction reactions.
Klaus Wallmann et al., Periodic changes in the Cretaceous ocean and climate caused by marine redox see-saw, Nature Geoscience (2019). DOI: 10.1038 / s41561-019-0359-x
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers
Plankton as a climate driver instead of the sun? (2019, May 22)
retrieved May 23, 2019
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