Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

North Pacific deglacial hypoxic events linked to abrupt ocean warming

November 1, 2015

Marine sediments from the North Pacific document two episodes of expansion and strengthening of the subsurface oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) accompanied by seafloor hypoxia during the last deglacial transition1234. The mechanisms driving this hypoxia remain under debate1234567891011. We present a new high-resolution alkenone palaeotemperature reconstruction from the Gulf of Alaska that reveals two abrupt warming events of 4–5 degrees Celsius at the onset of the Bølling and Holocene intervals that coincide with sudden shifts to hypoxia at intermediate depths. The presence of diatomaceous laminations and hypoxia-tolerant benthic foraminiferal species, peaks in redox-sensitive trace metals1213, and enhanced 15N/14N ratio of organic matter13, collectively suggest association with high export production. A decrease in 18O/16O values of benthic foraminifera accompanying the most severe deoxygenation event indicates subsurface warming of up to about 2 degrees Celsius. We infer that abrupt warming triggered expansion of the North Pacific OMZ through reduced oxygen solubility and increased marine productivity via physiological effects; following initiation of hypoxia, remobilization of iron from hypoxic sediments could have provided a positive feedback on ocean deoxygenation through increased nutrient utilization and carbon export. Such a biogeochemical amplification process implies high sensitivity of OMZ expansion to warming.