A well-oxygenated eastern tropical Pacific during the warm Miocene

Publication Year


Journal Article

The oxygen content of the oceans is susceptible to climate change and has declined in recent decades1, with the largest effect in oxygen-deficient zones (ODZs)2 , that is,mid-depth ocean regions with oxygen concentrations <5 μmol kg −1 (ref. 3). Earth-system-model simulations of climate warming predict that ODZs will expand until at least 2100. The response on timescales of hundreds to thousands of years, however, remains uncertain3–5. Here we investigate changes in the response of ocean oxygenation during the warmer-than-present Miocene Climatic Optimum (MCO; 17.0–14.8 million years ago (Ma)). Our planktic foraminifera I/Ca and δ15N data, palaeoceanographicproxies sensitive to ODZ extent and intensity, indicate that dissolved-oxygenconcentrations in the eastern tropical Pacific (ETP) exceeded 100 μmol kg −1 duringthe MCO. PairedMg/Ca-derived temperature data suggest that an ODZ developed in response to an increased west-to-east temperature gradient and shoaling of the ETP thermocline. Our records align with model simulations of data from recent decades tocenturies6,7 , suggesting that weaker equatorial Pacific trade winds during warm periods may lead to decreased upwelling in the ETP, causing equatorial productivity and subsurface oxygen demand to be less concentrated in the east. These findings shed light on how warm-climate states such as during the MCO may affect ocean
oxygenation. If the MCO is considered as a possible analogue for future warming, our findings seem to support models suggesting that the recent deoxygenation trend and expansion of the ETP ODZ may eventually reverse

Date Published