REIMAGINATION: REconstructing and understanding the IMplications of surface 14C AGe changes In the North Atlantic for overturning circulaTION

Lead Research Organisation: University of St Andrews
Department Name: Earth and Environmental Sciences

Abstract

The Atlantic Ocean's conveyor belt circulation is a fundamental 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 will reconstruct 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.

To reconstruct radiocarbon reservoir ages we need to measure the radiocarbon content of a sample, and also to know its age independently, so we can work out what was already on the clock when the sample formed.
To do this we will make radiocarbon measurements on shells taken from sediment cores from the North Atlantic, and pair them with a range of exciting new techniques that can tell their age. Firstly we will look for layers of volcanic ash in the sediment cores, which we can date using their argon content, and match to precisely dated ash layers in ice cores and on Iceland. Secondly we can look at changes in sea surface temperature records, and match these to the same events that are precisely dated in ice cores. Thirdly we will use the concentration of thorium in sediments to tell how much sediment accumulated between these ash and temperature tie points. Fourthly, we will combine all this information using statistical modelling, which will also provide a good measure of the uncertainty in our results.

This work will create maps of reservoir ages and how they changed in the North Atlantic over the last 10 to 50 thousand years, with a special focus on times of rapid climate change. To help us link the reservoir ages to different circulation regimes, we will use a climate model that can simulate radiocarbon. We will make this model's ocean circulation operate in different ways, and see which circulations best match our data. This will allow us to better understand how ocean circulation changed in the past to cause rapid climate change, and improve confidence in how ocean circulation may operate in the future.

Finally, we will package our reservoir age maps into a tool that can be used by earth scientists and archeologists to improve their radiocarbon dating.

Planned Impact

Our work is focused on topics of significant interest to policy makers and the general public: rapid climate change, and radiocarbon dating. We will capitalise on this to deliver broad and lasting impact to the following groups:

1. Public and Policy makers - understanding of climate tipping points
"Tipping points" in the climate system, such as the rapid AMOC shifts we are studying, are a major concern for policy makers and the general public. Although the chances of AMOC shutdown in the next century are unlikely, the severity of the potential impact on society makes this a crucial tipping point to understand. Our radiocarbon reservoir age data, and accompanying circulation state modelling, will provide a thorough framework in which to test model skill in reproducing rapid circulation and climate changes. The ability of climate models to reproduce the circulation regimes we reconstruct will improve our confidence in their predictive abilities, and thus their utility for policy decision making.

2. High school students and teachers - climate change education delivered through Geobus
High school students, teachers, and their families will benefit from educational outreach on climate change that we will undertake as part of the University of St Andrew's highly successful Geobus initiative. Geobus provides teaching and resources in the earth and environmental sciences to high schools across Scotland and the North of England. Climate-focussed workshops have been particularly welcomed by Geobus staff and teachers, given the perception of climate science as a "new" subject and a "hot topic". The topical nature of climate change also makes it an excellent topic with which to engage students in STEM subjects, a key goal for UK education and economic development. Geobus has an excellent track record of impact to date: since its establishment in 2012, it has delivered material to over 20,000 pupils in 160 schools, and has grown its funding pool from an initial £50k prvided by NERC, to >£350k till 2016 through industry sponsorship.

3. Radiocarbon users - new products, interlab collaboration, technical development
Radiocarbon dating is a tool with wide multi-disciplinary applications across the environmental and archeological sciences, and in both research and commercial sectors. The proposed work will have broad impact on the radiocarbon community by providing the first systematic regional assessment of radiocarbon reservoir ages in the North Atlantic across the whole datable interval (10-50 ka). The project will also promote continued interlab calibration and technical development for two key UK radiocarbon facilities.

4. Students, teachers, and general public
Our project website will include a photo gallery resource which will provide a tool for students and teachers to learn about how records of past ocean circulation changes are developed. This will include a photo gallery (and short videos) of the recovery of a marine sediment core, sampling and picking of foraminifera, and processing in the AMS 14C facility with text explaining each.

5. Young women considering STEM subjects - break down gender bias perceptions
STEM subjects have suffered from perceptions of gender bias. The female PI Andrea Burke and CoI Paula Reimer will help address this by providing tours of the Queens University Belfast Accelerator Mass Spectrometry facility to female high school students. Burke and Reimer will act as role models to encourage young women to consider STEM subjects.

6. Training and networking of highly skilled researchers
The project will contribute to the UK's skill set through the training and professional development of an undergraduate student and a PDRA. The strong and diverse team of project partners will facilitate the integration of PI Andrea Burke and CoI James Rae into the UK and European research communities, which will help further spread the impact of this research
 
Description We have been compiling and reconstructing surface radiocarbon ages from the Northeast Atlantic as a means of refining the timing of oceanographic and climatic changes over the last ice age. We find interesting changes over the last deglaciation that suggest large changes in ocean circulation that occurred over this time period. These results are about to be submitted for publication in a peer review journal. These results will improve age models from sediment cores in the North Atlantic and will allow us to better constrain the timing of climatic events and potential leads and lags in the climate system
Exploitation Route These data will be used to inform and radiocarbon dates used in environmental and marine archaeological reconstructions. They will be incorporated into an international project that calibrates the radiocarbon curves over the past 40,000 years.
Sectors Education,Environment

 
Description Our research has had impact in broader public and society through a number of events. We have used our research in two different public outreach talks: Pint of Science event in Glasgow, and then as a result of that talk, CoI James Rae was invited to give a talk to the Glasgow skeptic society. Both of these events generated much discussion and debate by the general public afterwards, and were well received. We are also planning a Science taster event on May 4 in Belfast to introduce our research to secondary school female students, both to highlight the role of women in STEM (PI Burke, CoI Reimer, and postdoctoral fellow Greenop are all female) and to introduce the students to our findings on the role of ocean in climate change in the past and how that relates to (and is different from) climate change today. Our workshop was further developed and presented by postdoctoral fellow Greenop at the Earth Science Teacher Association conference in September 2016. Many teachers reported that they would take the hands-on activities into their own classrooms. Finally, further classroom material for secondary schools based on our research into climate change and ocean circulation has been developed in collaboration with the University of St Andrews Geobus, which brings Earth Science education into schools around Scotland and the North of England.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Education
Impact Types Societal

 
Title New Age Models for sediment cores 
Description New age models have been developed for sediment cores from the North Atlantic that improve upon previous age models by adding in thorium normalisation which allows us to constrain changes in sedimentation rate in between age tie points. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Previous and ongoing paleoclimate work by collaborators in Cardiff is being re-evaluated in light of our improved age models. 
 
Title Sea surface Radiocarbon database 
Description A compilation of surface radiocarbon ages from the Northeastern Atlantic over the past 35000 years 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This will inform the INtCal working group on marine radiocarbon reconstructions 
 
Description IntCal Working group 
Organisation Collège de France
Department Life Sciences
Country France, French Republic 
Sector Hospitals 
PI Contribution We are contributing research results and data to the international working group on radiocarbon inter calibration
Collaborator Contribution They are providing results and expertise on radiocarbon inter calibration as well. The result will be a large international inter calibration and new updated set of radiocarbon curves.
Impact We are presenting our research at EGU conference in Vienna at the IntCal organised session.
Start Year 2016
 
Description IntCal Working group 
Organisation University of Kiel
Country Germany, Federal Republic of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We are contributing research results and data to the international working group on radiocarbon inter calibration
Collaborator Contribution They are providing results and expertise on radiocarbon inter calibration as well. The result will be a large international inter calibration and new updated set of radiocarbon curves.
Impact We are presenting our research at EGU conference in Vienna at the IntCal organised session.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement - CNRS 
Organisation Laboratory of Climate Sciences and the Environment (LSCE)
Country France, French Republic 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We are measuring Thorium isotopes and radiocarbon in foraminifera from sediment cores
Collaborator Contribution They are providing sediment core material, and expertise in sediment core age modelling
Impact Data generation and interpretation of cores. New age models for sediment cores
Start Year 2016
 
Description WHOI collaboration 
Organisation Cardiff University
Department School of Earth and Ocean Sciences
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We are providing geochemical data and measurements on the sediment samples provided by our collaboration
Collaborator Contribution The partners have provided very important sediment core samples that will greatly enhance our research and scope of the project.
Impact We are presenting the results of this research at the EGU 2016 meeting in Vienna, and at the 2016 Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in Japan.
Start Year 2015
 
Description WHOI collaboration 
Organisation Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Country United States of America 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We are providing geochemical data and measurements on the sediment samples provided by our collaboration
Collaborator Contribution The partners have provided very important sediment core samples that will greatly enhance our research and scope of the project.
Impact We are presenting the results of this research at the EGU 2016 meeting in Vienna, and at the 2016 Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in Japan.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Earth Science Teacher Association (ESTA) conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact The postdoctoral research fellow on this grant organised and led a workshop at the annual Earth Science Teacher Association conference in 2016. This event is attended by Earth Science teachers from across the UK. The workshop was directly related to the research on this grant, and involved presentation and series of hands on activities that could be brought into the classroom to illustrate concepts of ocean circulation, carbon cycling, and past climate change. The teachers reported enjoying the workshop and the hands-on activities and liked having topics to go into in depth that were societally relevant (climate change and ocean acidification). Many teachers asked for further information after the workshop and reported that they would be bringing those activities into the classroom in their schools. Attendance at this specific workshop was about 50 school teachers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description GeoBus Workshop - Scotland's Climate. This mobile workshop will be delivered in schools across Scotland 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact This workshop is around 50 minutes and leads pupils through a series of practical experiments and demonstrations exploring the driving factors behind changes in the Earth's climate system. The GeoBus staff use a wide range of experiments and the workshop is adapted to fit it with the Scottish learning outcomes for level 3 to Advance Higher. The practical nature of the workshops mean that with set up and clear up times teachers are often not able to deliver the experiments themselves. Since 2015 the GeoBus team have worked with over 1000 pupils completely climate workshops. Teachers have requested more support with teaching climate science in particular the role of the Oceans.

GeoBus uses social media, (twitter, Facebook and Instagram) to not only promote but to continue to engage teachers and pupils in Earth Science. Our largest engagement (impressions, likes and retweets) has been when promoting climate information. During climate week the workshops were pick up by the Scottish government, this has lead to increased bookings for the climate workshop in 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017
URL http://geobus.st-andrews.ac.uk/whatweoffer/workshops/
 
Description Lecture to the Glasgow Skeptic Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This talk came about after the success of the Pint of Science talk in Glasgow in Spring 2015. CoI Rae was invited by a member of the audience at the Pint of Science talk to give a public lecture to the Glasgow Skeptic Society, which promotes critical thinking. This talk was also very well received and well attended, and sparked a discussion that lasted an hour and a half after the talk was over (total of 2.5 hours).

Feedback after the talk was very positive. Also evidenced by the number of questions asked during the Q&A session, and that everyone remained to the end (after 2. 5 hours). Several members of the audience said that the explanations of past records of climate change and how isotopes could be used to reconstruct those changes really clarified a lot about paleoclimate science, and were happy to finally understand how they could be used.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://www.facebook.com/events/830011037112054/
 
Description Public lecture as part of the Pint of Science event in Glasgow, May 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk sparked discussion and questions and reached a broad audience.

James Rae was subsequently invited to give a talk on reconstructing past climate change by the Glasgow Skeptic Society
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://pintofscience.co.uk/event/climate-of-the-past-technology-of-the-future/
 
Description RSE science masterclass for S1 and S2 students on fossils and climate 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Andrea Burke and James Rae hosted a free master class for S1 and S2 students on Saturday April 23. The topic of the class was fossils and climate and we investigated how fossils can be used to tell us about past environmental and climatic change. We looked at a range of fossils, including foraminifera and used samples and insights from our own research to introduce students to how we can reconstruct climatic change on a range of timescales. All students gave positive feedback and said they were inspired to continue on in STEM fields (as assessed by a feedback form at the end of the workshop).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.royalsoced.org.uk/784_StartupScienceMasterclasses.html
 
Description Science Taster Day for Female Secondary School students at Queen's University Belfast 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact This Science taster day at Queens University Belfast was developed to introduced local female secondary school students in Belfast to topics in Earth and climate science to encourage them into STEM subjects and to target them before they choose their subjects for further study. The two lead PIs on this grant are female as is the main postdoctoral researcher, and so it posed an excellent opportunity to show female role models in positions of scientific leadership. The two PIs from St Andrews and QUB and the St Andrews postdoc developed hands-on activities to demonstrate concepts related to climate, oceanography and paleoclimate reconstruction, that were directly related to the research in the grant (including understanding process that change and affect deepwater formation, as well as estimating past climates from changes in foraminiferal ecology). The day also included a laboratory tour of the accelerator mass spectrometry facility at QUB.Questionaires completed by the students afterwards suggested that most students felt they were more likely to take science courses after the days activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016