The oceanic meridional overturning circulation (MOC) is a crucial component of the climate system, impacting heat and nutrient transport, and global carbon cycling. Past greenhouse climate intervals present a paradox because their weak equator-to-pole temperature gradients imply a weaker MOC, yet increased poleward oceanic heat transport appears to be required to maintain these weak gradients. To investigate the mode of MOC that operated during the early Cenozoic, we compare new Nd isotope data with Nd tracer-enabled numerical ocean circulation and coupled climate model simulations. Assimilation of new Nd isotope data from South Pacific Deep Sea Drilling Project and Ocean Drilling Program Sites 323, 463, 596, 865, and 869 with previously published data confirm the hypothesized MOC characterized by vigorous sinking in the South and North Pacific ~70 to 30 Ma. Compilation of all Pacific Nd isotope data indicates vigorous, distinct, and separate overturning circulations in each basin until ~40 Ma. Simulations consistently reproduce South Pacific and North Pacific deep convection over a broad range of conditions, but cases using strong deep ocean vertical mixing produced the best data-model match. Strong mixing, potentially resulting from enhanced abyssal tidal dissipation, greater interaction of wind-driven internal wave activity with submarine plateaus, or higher than modern values of the geothermal heat flux enable models to achieve enhanced MOC circulation rates with resulting Nd isotope distributions consistent with the proxy data. The consequent poleward heat transport may resolve the paradox of warmer worlds with reduced temperature gradients.


This article was published by AGU Publications, by the American Geophysical Union.

Thomas, D. J., R. Korty, M. Huber, J. A. Schubert, and B. Haines (2014), Nd isotopic structure of the Pacific Ocean 70–30 Ma and numerical evidence for vigorous ocean circulation and ocean heat transport in a greenhouse world, Paleoceanography, 29, 454–469, doi:10.1002/2013PA002535.


Nd isotopes; numerical modeling; Ocean Drilling; meridional overturning circulation

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