Atmospheric Δ14C reduction in simulations of Atlantic overturning circulation shutdown

Katsumi Matsumoto, Yusuke Yokoyama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


A rapid reduction in the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) can significantly disrupt the global heat transport and likely triggered abrupt climate change during the last glacial cycle. A slowdown in AMOC has long been assumed to inhibit the exchange of carbon between the atmosphere and the deep ocean and thus cause radiocarbon (14C), which is produced in the atmosphere, to accumulate in the atmosphere. Indeed previous model studies have demonstrated that a reduction in AMOC leads to higher atmospheric 14C abundance (Δ14C). However, this seems inconsistent with the observed rise in atmospheric pCO2 during Heinrich 1 and the Younger Dryas stadial events and the emerging view that this CO2 rise resulted from the deep ocean venting "old" carbon. Using an Earth system model, we offer an alternative scenario that AMOC slowdown and an accompanying dynamical response in the south (i.e., the bipolar seesaw) can in fact lead to a decline in atmospheric Δ14C. This decline is realized in the model when the bipolar seesaw and thus the flux of old carbon from the Southern Ocean are sufficiently large so as to overcome the accumulation of 14C in the atmosphere as AMOC is reduced. The bipolar seesaw we describe invokes an oceanic teleconnection, whereby a freshwater perturbation in the North Atlantic drives a southern Δ14C response, but this does not necessarily preclude an atmospheric teleconnection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)296-304
Number of pages9
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2013


  • abrupt climate change
  • carbon cycle
  • numerical model
  • radiocarbon


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