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Geoscientific Model Development An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Model description paper 27 Nov 2018

Model description paper | 27 Nov 2018

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This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Geoscientific Model Development (GMD).

Ocean carbon and nitrogen isotopes in CSIRO Mk3L-COAL version 1.0: A tool for palaeoceanographic research

Pearse J. Buchanan1,2,3, Richard J. Matear2,3, Zanna Chase1, Steven J. Phipps1, and Nathan L. Bindoff1,2,3,4 Pearse J. Buchanan et al.
  • 1Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
  • 2CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, CSIRO Marine Laboratories, G.P.O Box 1538, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
  • 3ARC Centre of Excellence in Climate System Science, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
  • 4Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Abstract. The isotopes of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) are commonly used proxies for understanding the ocean. When used in tandem, they provide powerful insight into physical and biogeochemical processes. Here, we detail the implementation of δ13C and δ15N in the ocean component of an Earth system model. We evaluate our simulated δ13C and δ15N against contemporary measurements, place the model's performance alongside other isotope enabled models, and document the response of δ13C and δ15N to changes in ecosystem functioning. The model combines the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation Mark 3L (CSIRO Mk3L) climate system model with the Carbon of the Ocean, Atmosphere and Land (COAL) biogeochemical model. The oceanic component of CSIRO Mk3L-COAL has a resolution of 1.6° latitude × 2.8° longitude and resolves multi-millennial timescales, running at a rate of ∼400 years per day. We show that this coarse resolution, computationally efficient model adequately reproduces water column and coretop δ13C and δ15N measurements, making it a useful tool for palaeoceanographic research. Changes to ecosystem function involve varying phytoplankton stoichiometry, varying CaCO3 production based on calcite saturation state, and varying N2 fixation via iron limitation. We find that large changes in CaCO3 production have little effect on δ13C and δ15N, while changes in N2 fixation and phytoplankton stoichiometry have substantial and complex effects. Interpretations of palaeoceanographic records are therefore open to multiple lines of interpretation where multiple processes imprint on the isotopic signature, such as in the tropics where denitrification, N2 fixation and nutrient utilisation influence δ15N. Hence, there is significant scope for isotope enabled models to provide more robust interpretations of the proxy records.

Pearse J. Buchanan et al.
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Pearse J. Buchanan et al.
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Publications Copernicus
Special issue
Short summary
Oceanic sediment cores are commonly used to understand past climates. The composition of the sediments changes with the ocean above it. An understanding of oceanographic conditions that existed many thousands of years ago, in some cases many millions of years ago, can therefore be extracted from sediment cores. We simulate two chemical signatures (C-13 and N-15) of sediment cores in a model. The study is an important assessment before the model is applied to reinterpret the sedimentary records.
Oceanic sediment cores are commonly used to understand past climates. The composition of the...