North Atlantic

Collaboration with Andrea Burke, Paula Reimer, Tim Heaton, and others!

Project team includes Rosanna Greenop, Rhian Rees-Owen, and Eloise Littley


The Atlantic Ocean's conveyor belt circulation is a critical component of the global climate system, transporting heat from low to high latitudes, and thus warming Northern Europe. The strength of this circulation is thought to have varied abruptly in the past, giving rise to rapid climate changes of more than 10 degrees C in a decade during the last glacial period. Changes of this nature today would have a severe impact on society, so we want to know more about the sensitivity of this circulation. In order to do this, we will study intervals of rapid climate and circulation change in the past.

To better understand these past circulation changes we are reconstructing the concentration of radiocarbon in surface and deep waters in the North Atlantic Ocean. This is known as a radiocarbon reservoir age, and it is highly sensitive to the rate of ocean circulation. Therefore, by reconstructing reservoir ages, we can tell how quickly the ocean was circulating during intervals of rapid climate change.

We also need to know what the reservoir age was in the past if we want to use radiocarbon as a dating tool, to tell the age of geological and archeological objects and events. Radiocarbon can be thought of as a stopwatch for a geological sample. For a marine sample, however, there is already some time on the clock when we press go. This extra time before starting the clock is the reservoir age, and we must know what it is in order to accurately tell geological time.

By reconstructing reservoir ages, we will therefore improve understanding of rapid circulation and climate change, and also improve the most important dating tool used in earth and archeological sciences.