Articles | Volume 5, issue 2
Earth Syst. Dynam., 5, 321–343, 2014
Earth Syst. Dynam., 5, 321–343, 2014

Research article 16 Oct 2014

Research article | 16 Oct 2014

Burial-nutrient feedbacks amplify the sensitivity of atmospheric carbon dioxide to changes in organic matter remineralisation

R. Roth1,2, S. P. Ritz1,2, and F. Joos1,2 R. Roth et al.
  • 1Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
  • 2Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland

Abstract. Changes in the marine remineralisation of particulate organic matter (POM) and calcium carbonate potentially provide a positive feedback with atmospheric CO2 and climate change. The responses to changes in remineralisation length scales are systematically mapped with the Bern3D ocean–sediment model for atmospheric CO2 and tracer fields for which observations and palaeoproxies exist. Results show that the "sediment burial-nutrient feedback" amplifies the response in atmospheric CO2 by a factor of four to seven. A transient imbalance between the weathering flux and the burial of organic matter and calcium carbonate lead to sustained changes in the ocean's phosphate and alkalinity inventory and in turn in surface nutrient availability, marine productivity, and atmospheric CO2. It takes decades to centuries to reorganise tracers and fluxes within the ocean, many millennia to approach equilibrium for burial fluxes, while δ13C signatures are still changing 200 000 years after the perturbation. At 1.7 ppm m−1, atmospheric CO2 sensitivity is about fifty times larger for a unit change in the remineralisation depth of POM than of calcium carbonate. The results highlight the role of organic matter burial in atmospheric CO2 and the substantial impacts of seemingly small changes in POM remineralisation.

Final-revised paper