Carbon isotopes characterize rapid changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide during the last deglaciation

Thomas K. Bauska, Daniel Baggenstos, Edward J. Brook, Alan C. Mix, Shaun A. Marcott, Vasilii V. Petrenko, Hinrich Schaefer, Jeffrey P. Severinghaus, James E. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Citations (Scopus)


An understanding of the mechanisms that control CO2 change during glacial–interglacial cycles remains elusive. Here we help to constrain changing sources with a high-precision, high-resolution deglacial record of the stable isotopic composition of carbon in CO2 (δ13C-CO2) in air extracted from ice samples from Taylor Glacier, Antarctica. During the initial rise in atmospheric CO2 from 17.6 to 15.5 ka, these data demarcate a decrease in δ13C-CO2, likely due to a weakened oceanic biological pump. From 15.5 to 11.5 ka, the continued atmospheric CO2 rise of 40 ppm is associated with small changes in δ13C-CO2, consistent with a nearly equal contribution from a further weakening of the biological pump and rising ocean temperature. These two trends, related to marine sources, are punctuated at 16.3 and 12.9 ka with abrupt, century-scale perturbations in δ13C-CO2 that suggest rapid oxidation of organic land carbon or enhanced air–sea gas exchange in the Southern Ocean. Additional century-scale increases in atmospheric CO2 coincident with increases in atmospheric CH4 and Northern Hemisphere temperature at the onset of the Bølling (14.6–14.3 ka) and Holocene (11.6–11.4 ka) intervals are associated with small changes in δ13C-CO2, suggesting a combination of sources that included rising surface ocean temperature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3465-3470
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number13
Early online date14 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 29 Mar 2016


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