- Paleoclimate archives have revealed abrupt climate events that are superimposed on more gradual climate changes throughout the last glacial and deglacial periods. The underlying causes of such rapid climate changes are still poorly understood, but the strong expression of these events in northern hemisphere records likely points to climatic mechanisms of a northern origin. A leading hypothesis for the trigger of these climate fluctuations has been changes in the strength of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC). However, the very rapid nature of some of the observed climate transitions (3-50 years) suggests a potential role for abrupt shifts in atmospheric circulation or nonlinear feedbacks within the climate system. Understanding the relative timing and magnitude of these events in different regions of the globe will help to identify the sources and possible amplifying mechanisms that have led to abrupt climate changes in the past, which will provide insight and constraints on the potential for abrupt climate changes in the future.
This dissertation seeks to characterize climate changes occurring in the Northeast Pacific during the last deglaciation, a time period that encompasses the dynamic transition between the last ice age and the modern day interglacial period. So far, high-resolution records with precise chronologies from the North Pacific have been sparse, and paleoclimate models and proxy reconstructions disagree about the deglacial climate changes that are both predicted and observed to have occurred in this region. Marine sediment records from the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) have exceptionally high resolution (~1 cm/yr), making it possible to reconstruct climate changes in unprecedented detail for the North Pacific region.
We establish new multi-decadal scale records of surface ocean variability using planktonic oxygen isotopes and sea-surface temperature (SST) estimates based on the alkenone U₃₇[superscript K'] unsaturation index, as well as regional records of ice-rafting and deglacial volcanic activity sourced from the Mt. Edgecumbe volcanic field (MEVF). The age models for these records are constrained by high-precision radiocarbon dating, tephra correlation, and "tuning" to the decadal-scale North Greenland Ice Core Project (NGRIP) oxygen isotope record. We combine new and previously published data from a depth transect of marine sites in the GOA and Northeast Pacific to place surface ocean changes in context of oceanic variability throughout the water column. These reconstructions are then used to evaluate three fundamental questions: 1) what are the timing and patterns of deglacial climate changes in the North Pacific relative to other regions, 2) what are the potential forcing mechanisms for deglacial climate variability in this region, and 3) how does the subsurface ocean respond to and influence abrupt climate change.
In chapter two, we compare the timing and patterns of climate changes occurring between the North Pacific and North Atlantic regions. A major debate in the paleoclimate literature has been whether these regions operate in a synchronized or seesaw like mode. We compare the high resolution GOA and NGRIP oxygen isotope records as proxies for local temperature, and find that both synchronous and asynchronous climate patterns occur between regions throughout the past 18,000 years. The most abrupt climate transitions are preceded/accompanied by synchronous behavior, whereas times of relative climate stability exhibit asynchronous or anticorrelated (seesaw) patterns. This implies that coupling of North Pacific and North Atlantic heat transport could act as an amplifying mechanism in abrupt northern hemisphere climate change, whereas opposing oceanic regimes could act to balance northern hemisphere heat transport, and thus promote climate stability.
In chapter three, we examine the timing between regional deglaciation and volcanism to evaluate potential feedbacks between climate and volcanic activity. Although volcanic eruptions have been observed to contribute to abrupt climate fluctuations with global effects in historical times, the role of volcanic forcing in climate variability of the more distant past (prior to the Holocene) has been neglected due to the very short-time scales in which volcanic events occur, and the difficulty of obtaining records with high enough resolution to capture these events and their associated climate effects. We evaluate the source and timing of a sequence of 23 tephra layers preserved in high-accumulation rate sediment cores proximal to the MEVF, and examine the regional climate response to this volcanic activity through comparison with reconstructions of sea surface temperatures, oxygen isotopes, and the δ¹⁸O of seawater. We find that the onset of enhanced volcanic activity coincides with abrupt warming at the onset of the Bølling Allerød, regional retreat of glaciers, and a period of rapid vertical land motion predicted from a model of regional isostatic rebound. These finding support the hypothesis that deglaciation may promote volcanism by removing crustal loading. The records of sea surface variability show large fluctuations during the episode of intense volcanic activity, suggesting that deglacial volcanic activity may not only respond to climate, but may also contribute to climate variance during the deglacial interval.
In Chapter four, we examine the oceanographic changes that lead to two episodes of hypoxia in the GOA that lasted for millennia during the deglaciation. Similar hypoxic events have been documented across the North Pacific, indicating a widespread expansion of the oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) during the Bølling Allerød and early Holocene warm periods. These episodes have been linked to enhanced export productivity in many sites, however, the driving mechanisms for enhanced productivity and ocean deoxygenation remain elusive. Our alkenone temperature reconstructions reveal two abrupt warmings of 4-5°C that precisely coincide with the onset of increased export productivity and a sudden shift to hypoxic conditions, suggesting a strong link between ocean warming, marine productivity, and deoxygenation. Oxygen isotopes throughout the water column indicate that a transient subsurface warming of ~2°C might have accompanied the first hypoxic event during the BA. We propose that abrupt ocean warming lead to an expansion of the North Pacific OMZ through a reduction in oxygen solubility, enhanced thermal stratification, and a stimulation of marine productivity through the stabilization of the euphotic zone (related to stratification), combined with enhanced nutrient input from remobilization of iron in hypoxic shelf sediments.
These studies indicate that large surface and subsurface ocean changes occurred in the North Pacific during the last deglaciation, with the potential for important feedbacks on global climate.