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Underestimated ocean effects

  • Written by  Tom Hart
  • Published in Oceans
Underestimated ocean effects Shutterstock
23 Nov
2014
Atmospheric greenhouses gases have been the focus for fears over changes to the Earth’s climate. But research from Rutgers University suggests that the oceans equal the atmosphere for importance in regulating the planet’s temperature

Around 2.7 million years ago, cooling ice build-up in the northern hemisphere coincided with a shift in ocean circulations. Today’s oceanic circulation pulls heat and carbon dioxide north to south through the Atlantic until both are released in the south Pacific.

‘It was the establishment of the modern deep ocean circulation and not a major change in carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere that triggered an expansion of the ice sheets in the northern hemisphere,’ says Stella Woodard, researcher at Rutgers’ Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences.

The findings are based on ocean sediment core samples between 2.5 million to 3.3 million years old, and provide scientists with a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of climate change today.

‘Our study suggests that changes in storage of heat in the deep ocean could be as important to climate change as other hypotheses – tectonic activity or a drop in the carbon dioxide level – and likely led to one of the major climate transitions of the past 30 million years,’ said Yair Rosenthal, co-author and professor of marine and coastal sciences at Rutgers.

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