Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Earth Sciences


Humans have directly recorded information about only a narrow range of climate. Evidence for a much larger range of possible Earth climate, and for thresholds within the climate system, come from paleoclimate records derived from archives such as ice and sediment cores. Assessing the range of such climates and the mechanisms that caused them is of fundamental importance if we are to accurately predict future climate. Such paleoclimate work relies absolutely on the application of proxies. We cannot measure environmental variables such as ocean circulation directly for past times, but we can find chemical proxies for these variables in paleo-archives. Development and calibration of these proxies is critical to paleoclimate. But such calibration can sometimes lag behind their application, leading to uncertain reconstructions of the past. The work proposed here seeks to address this issue with an explicit focus on calibration of critical proxies for paleoceanography. The proposal brings together researchers with a variety of chemical specialities, but all with a strong track record for proxy calibration work. Although each of these researcher also applies proxies to paleoclimate questions, this is not a paleoclimate proposal, but is focused on understanding the modern water-column and upper-sediment behaviour of chemical-species used as paleoproxies. We will understand the geochemistry that links the final sediment composition to climate variables, and assess the limitations on these links so that proxies are not applied inappropriately. We will focus on a limited number of proxies, each of which has clear (and, in most cases, demonstrated) potential to provide important information about the past. These proxies, if accurately calibrated, will provide information about the pattern and rate of past ocean circulation, and about the composition, flux and nutrient utilisation of past biological productivity (which sets the removal of carbon from the atmosphere). They therefore have tremendous potential to inform us about the role of the oceans in past climate, both through the transport of heat and carbon. The proxy calibration work proposed here will allow that potential to be better and more accurately realized. The geochemical focus of this proposal is also central to a major new international research programme investigating the marine cycling of trace elements and isotopes - GEOTRACES. A research cruise in the South Atlantic is proposed here to allow collection of water-column and sediment samples for the proxy calibration work. This cruise will form a UK component of the GEOTRACES programme. Although funds are only sought for the calibration of critical paleoproxies in this proposal, the research cruise will be a platform for a wide range of other biogeochemical research. Such work might include assessment of biologically significant metal fluxes at ocean margins, chemical transport in deep-water masses, and the controls on micronutrient supply to the surface waters of the low-dust South Atlantic. We will ensure, though our existing involvement in the GEOTRACES programme, that the widest possible range of such research is achieved on the cruise, making this an important research cruise for a wide range of geochemists internationally.


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Bourne M (2012) Improved determination of marine sedimentation rates using 230 Th xs TECHNICAL BRIEF in Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems