Deep‐Sea Oxygen Depletion and Ocean Carbon Sequestration During the Last Ice Age

Anderson, Robert F.; Sachs, Julian P.; Fleisher, Martin Q.; Allen, Katherine A.; Yu, Jimin; Koutavas, Athanasios; Jaccard, Samuel L. (2019). Deep‐Sea Oxygen Depletion and Ocean Carbon Sequestration During the Last Ice Age. Global biogeochemical cycles, 33(3), pp. 301-317. American Geophysical Union 10.1029/2018GB006049

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Enhanced ocean carbon storage during the Pleistocene ice ages lowered atmospheric CO2 concentrations by 80 to 100 ppm relative to interglacial levels. Leading hypotheses to explain this phenomenon invoke a greater efficiency of the ocean's biological pump, in which case carbon storage in the deep sea would have been accompanied by a corresponding reduction in dissolved oxygen. We exploit the sensitivity of organic matter preservation in marine sediments to bottom water oxygen concentration to constrain the level of dissolved oxygen in the deep central equatorial Pacific Ocean during the last glacial period (18,000–28,000 years BP) to have been within the range of 20–50 μmol/kg, much less than the modern value of ~168 μmol/kg. We further demonstrate that reduced oxygen levels characterized the water column below a depth of ~1,000 m. Converting the ice age oxygen level to an equivalent concentration of respiratory CO2, and extrapolating globally, we estimate that deep‐sea CO2 storage during the last ice age exceeded modern values by as much as 850 Pg C, sufficient to balance the loss of carbon from the atmosphere (~200 Pg C) and from the terrestrial biosphere (~300–600 Pg C). In addition, recognizing the enhanced preservation of organic matter in ice age sediments of the deep Pacific Ocean helps reconcile previously unexplained inconsistencies among different geochemical and micropaleontological proxy records used to assess past changes in biological productivity of the ocean.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences

UniBE Contributor:

Jaccard, Samuel


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology




American Geophysical Union




Samuel Jaccard

Date Deposited:

12 Jun 2019 07:59

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:27

Publisher DOI:





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