Climate Dynamics

, Volume 37, Issue 9–10, pp 1755–1770 | Cite as

Role of the ocean in controlling atmospheric CO2 concentration in the course of global glaciations

  • Akira Oka
  • Eiichi Tajika
  • Ayako Abe-Ouchi
  • Keiko Kubota


Responses of ocean circulation and ocean carbon cycle in the course of a global glaciation from the present Earth conditions are investigated by using a coupled climate-biogeochemical model. We investigate steady states of the climate system under colder conditions induced by a reduction of solar constant from the present condition. A globally ice-covered solution is obtained under the solar constant of 92.2% of the present value. We found that because almost all of sea water reaches the frozen point, the ocean stratification is maintained not by temperature but by salinity just before the global glaciation (at the solar constant of 92.3%). It is demonstrated that the ocean circulation is driven not by the surface cooling but by the surface freshwater forcing associated with formation and melting of sea ice. As a result, the deep ocean is ventilated exclusively by deep water formation in southern high latitudes where sea ice production takes place much more massively than northern high latitudes. We also found that atmospheric CO2 concentration decreases through the ocean carbon cycle. This reduction is explained primarily by an increase of solubility of CO2 due to a decrease of sea surface temperature, whereas the export production weakens by 30% just before the global glaciation. In order to investigate the conditions for the atmospheric CO2 reduction to cause global glaciations, we also conduct a series of simulations in which the total amount of carbon in the atmosphere–ocean system is reduced from the present condition. Under the present solar constant, the results show that the global glaciation takes place when the total carbon decreases to be 70% of the present-day value. Just before the glaciation, weathering rate becomes very small (almost 10% of the present value) and the organic carbon burial declines due to weakened biological productivity. Therefore, outgoing carbon flux from the atmosphere–ocean system significantly decreases. This suggests the atmosphere–ocean system has strong negative feedback loops against decline of the total carbon content. The results obtained here imply that some processes outside the atmosphere–ocean feedback loops may be required to cause global glaciations.


Ocean carbon cycle Global glaciation Climate model 



The authors greatly appreciate useful comments by anonymous reviewers. The model calculations were performed by HITACHI SR11000 at Information Technology Center, University of Tokyo. The figures were produced by using the Dennou Library (developed by the GFD-Dennou Club) and GMT.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Akira Oka
    • 1
  • Eiichi Tajika
    • 2
  • Ayako Abe-Ouchi
    • 1
  • Keiko Kubota
    • 2
  1. 1.Atmosphere and Ocean Research InstituteUniversity of TokyoKashiwaJapan
  2. 2.Department of Earth and Planetary Science, Graduate School of ScienceUniversity of TokyoTokyoJapan

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