As the Earth emerged from its last ice age several thousand years ago, atmospheric carbon dioxide increased and further warmed the planet. Scientists have long speculated that the primary source of this CO2 was from the deep ocean around Antarctica, though it has been difficult to prove.
A new study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences confirmed that the ocean played a significant role in the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide, but also documents the signature of land-based carbon sources in Antarctic ice cores that contributed to abrupt increases in CO2.
"There wasn't a steady rate of rising carbon dioxide during the last deglaciation," said Edward Brook, an Oregon State University paleoclimatologist and co-author on the PNAS study. "It happened in fits and starts. With the new precise techniques we developed to fingerprint the sources, it is apparent that the early carbon largely came from the ocean, but we think the system got a jolt from an influx of land-based carbon a few times as the climate warmed."