Atmospheric radiocarbon during the Younger Dryas: production, ventilation, or both? Academic Article uri icon


  • A new reconstruction of past atmospheric Delta C-14 (Delta C-14(atm)) based on Polish lake varved sediments has suggested that previous Delta C-14(atm) values (e.g. from the Cariaco basin record) for the beginning of the Younger Dryas cold event (YD) are overestimates and that the Delta C-14(atm) rise at the YD onset could only be due to changes in atmospheric C-14 production (PC-14) This result would have profound climatic implications, for the YD is a paradigm example of abrupt climate change which is usually thought to have been triggered by a reduction in the northward heat flux by the Atlantic thermohaline circulation. Here we examine results from a large number of simulations (300) based on a zonally averaged ocean circulation model, to constrain the effect on Delta C-14(atm) of PC-14 changes during the YD as reconstructed from a Greenland ice core record of Be-10 flux. Our results suggest that the scatter in the lake data set is too large to exclude the probable change in deep ocean ventilation at the onset of the YD. By contrast, the model fit to the higher Delta C-14(atm) levels throughout the YD detected in the marine record is generally better when a substantial decrease in deep ocean ventilation is simulated. The early Delta C-14(atm) drawdown that initiated during the first half of the YD, however, could entirely be due to production changes. If this was the case, the drawdown would not reflect an increasing formation of North Atlantic Intermediate Water or Southern Ocean water, as previously suggested. The rapid Delta C-14(atm) rise at the YD onset documented in the marine record, however, remains unexplained. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

publication date

  • February 2001