Dynamics of the Marine Dissolved Organic Carbon Reservoir in Glacial Climate Simulations: The Importance of Biological Production

Maya D. Gilchrist, Katsumi Matsumoto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The marine dissolved organic carbon (DOC) reservoir rivals the atmospheric carbon inventory in size. Recent work has suggested that the size of the DOC reservoir may respond to variations in sea temperature and global overturning circulation strength. Moreover, mobilization of marine DOC has been implicated in paleoclimate events including Cryogenian glaciation and Eocene hyperthermals. Despite these suggestions, the dynamics of the marine DOC reservoir are poorly understood, and previous carbon cycle modeling has generally assumed this reservoir to be static. In this study, we utilize an Earth system model of intermediate complexity to assess the response of the marine DOC reservoir to various glacial boundary conditions. Our results indicate that the marine DOC reservoir is responsive to glacial perturbations and may shrink or expand on the order of 10–100 Pg C. In contrast to recent studies that emphasize the importance of DOC degradation in driving the mobility of DOC reservoir, our study indicates the importance of DOC production. In the experiment under full glacial boundary conditions, for example, a 19% drop in net primary production leads to an 81 Pg C reduction in the DOC pool, without which the atmospheric CO2 concentration would have been lower by approximately 38 ppm by dissolved inorganic carbon changes alone. Thus, DOC reservoir variability is necessary to fully account for the simulated changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration. Our findings based on glacial experiments are corroborated in a different set of simulations using freshwater flux to induce weakening of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2022PA004522
JournalPaleoceanography and Paleoclimatology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2023
Externally publishedYes

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