The Hot Zone

Oceans away

Posted by Alison Hawkes on August 13, 2010
Category : Climates of the Past

As I reported earlier, new research is showing the intimate connections between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans during past major climate events. Just because an ocean is an ocean away, doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel the impact of, say, the collapse of the Atlantic conveyor belt, as happened as the last Ice Age ended some 17,000 years ago.

Now another study of around the same time period was published recently by researchers at Oregon State University in the journal Earth and Planetary Letters. This study examined the tallest mountain in the world. Not Mount Everest — that’s the highest. Mount Mauna Kea, on the Big Island of Hawaii rises some 30,000 feet from the Pacific Ocean floor, making it the actual tallest, even though most of it’s underwater.

Mauna Kea, if you can believe it, once had a large glacial ice cap of more than 40 miles some 21,000 years ago. Peter Clark, a geosciences professor at OSU looked at how that glacier disappeared as the Ice Age ended and the planet become warmer.

Mauna Kea on Hawaii's Big Island was once covered in ice.

One surprising discovery, found in Helium isotope deposits within boulders, was that the glacier began readvancing back again some 15,400 years ago. Looking at the historical record, that change matched a major slowdown at the time in the Atlantic conveyor belt.

Normally you think of the Atlantic conveyor belt as controlling temperatures in Europe and the northern Atlantic. When it slows down it gets chillier. But the findings from OSC confirm suspicions that the rest of the planet changes, too. At Mauna Kea cooled down as well and precipitation jumped by quite a bit.

Maybe this was because of an uptick in storm events? When the Atlantic gets sluggish, the whole world catches a cold.

-Alison Hawkes

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