The Arctic: Interglacial period with a break
Reconstruction of Arctic climate conditions in the Cretaceous period
FRANKFURT. Scientists at the Goethe University Frankfurt and at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre working together with their Canadian counterparts, have reconstructed the climatic development of the Arctic Ocean during the Cretaceous period, 145 to 66 million years ago. The research team comes to the conclusion that there was a severe cold snap during the geological age known for its extreme greenhouse climate. The study published in the professional journal Geology is also intended to help improve prognoses of future climate and environmental development and the assessment of human influence on climate change.
The Cretaceous, which occurred approximately 145 million to 66 million years ago, was one of the warmest periods in the history of the earth. The poles were devoid of ice and average temperatures of up to 35 degrees Celsius prevailed in the oceans. “A typical greenhouse climate; some even refer to it as a ‘super greenhouse’ “, explains Professor Dr. Jens Herrle of the Goethe University and Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, and adds: “We have now found indications in the Arctic that this warm era 112 to 118 million years ago was interrupted for a period of about 6 million years.”
In cooperation with his Canadian colleague Professor Claudia Schröder-Adams of the Carleton University in Ottawa, the Frankfurt palaeontologist sampled the Arctic Fjord Glacier and the Lost Hammer diapir locality on Axel Heiberg Island in 5 to 10 metre intervals. “In so doing, we also found so-called glendonites”, Herrle recounts. Glendonite refers to star-shaped calcite minerals, which have taken on the crystal shape of the mineral ikaite. “These so-called pseudomorphs from calcite to ikaite are formed because ikaite is stable only below 8 degrees Celsius and metamorphoses into calcite at warmer temperatures”, explains Herrle and adds: “Thus, our sedimentological analyses and age dating provide a concrete indication for the environmental conditions in the cretaceous Arctic and substantiate the assumption that there was an extended interruption of the interglacial period in the Arctic Ocean at that time.”
In two research expeditions to the Arctic undertaken in 2011 and 2014, Herrle brought 1700 rock samples back to Frankfurt, where he and his working group analysed them using geochemical and paleontological methods. But can the Cretaceous rocks from the polar region also help to get a better understanding of the current climate change? “Yes”, Herrle thinks, elaborating: “The polar regions are particularly sensitive to global climatic fluctuations. Looking into the geological past allows us to gain fundamental knowledge regarding the dynamics of climate change and oceanic circulation under extreme greenhouse conditions. To be capable of better assessing the current man-made climate change, we must, for example, understand what processes in an extreme greenhouse climate contribute significantly to climate change.” In the case of the Cretaceous cold snap, Herrle assumes that due to the opening of the Atlantic in conjunction with changes in oceanic circulation and marine productivity, more carbon was incorporated into the sediments. This resulted in a decrease in the carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere, which in turn produced global cooling.
The Frankfurt scientist’s newly acquired data from the Cretaceous period will now be correlated with results for this era derived from the Atlantic, “in order to achieve a more accurate stratigraphic classification of the Cretaceous period and to better understand the interrelationships between the polar regions and the subtropics”, is the outlook Herrle provides.
Jens O. Herrle, Claudia J., Schröder-Adams, William Davis, Adam T. Pugh, Jennifer M. Galloway, and Jared Fath: Mid-Cretaceous High Arctic stratigraphy, climate, and Oceanic Anoxic Events, in: Geology, 19 Mai 2015, 10.1130/G36439.1 Open Access http://geology.gsapubs.org/cgi/content/abstract/G36439.1v1
Over the past decades, much research has focused on the mid-Cretaceous greenhouse climate, the formation of widespread organic-rich black shales, and cooling intervals from low- to mid-latitude sections. Data from the High Arctic, however, are limited. In this paper, we present high-resolution geochemical records for an ∼1.8-km-thick sedimentary succession exposed on Axel Heiberg Island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago at a paleolatitude of ∼71°N. For the first time, we have data constraints for the timing and magnitude of most major Oceanic Anoxic Events (OAEs) in brackish-water (OAE1a) and shelf (OAE1b and OAE2) settings in the mid-Cretaceous High Arctic. These are consistent with carbon-climate perturbations reported from deep-water records of lower latitudes. Glendonite beds are observed in the upper Aptian to lower Albian, covering an interval of ∼6 m.y. between 118 and 112 Ma. Although the formation of glendonites is still under discussion, these well-dated occurrences may support the existence of cool shelf waters in the High Arctic Sverdrup Basin at this time, coeval with recent geochemical data from the subtropical Atlantic indicating a drop in sea-surface temperature of nearly 4 °C.