Abstract. Given the magnitude and dynamism of the deep marine carbon reservoir, it is almost certain that past glacial – interglacial fluctuations in atmospheric CO2 have relied at least in part on changes in the carbon storage capacity of the deep sea. To date, physical ocean circulation mechanisms that have been proposed as viable explanations for glacial – interglacial CO2 change have focussed almost exclusively on dynamical or kinetic processes. Here, a simple mechanism is proposed for increasing the carbon storage capacity of the deep sea that operates via changes in the volume of southern-sourced deep-water filling the ocean basins, as dictated by the hypsometry of the ocean floor. It is proposed that a water-mass that occupies more than the bottom 3 km of the ocean will essentially determine the carbon content of the marine reservoir. Hence by filling this interval with southern-sourced deep-water (enriched in dissolved CO2 due to its particular mode of formation) the amount of carbon sequestered in the deep sea may be greatly increased. A simple box-model is used to test this hypothesis, and to investigate its implications. It is suggested that up to 70% of the observed glacial – interglacial CO2 change might be explained by the replacement of northern-sourced deep-water below 2.5 km water depth by its southern counterpart. Most importantly, it is found that an increase in the volume of southern-sourced deep-water allows glacial CO2 levels to be simulated easily with only modest changes in Southern Ocean biological export or overturning. If incorporated into the list of contributing factors to marine carbon sequestration, this mechanism may help to significantly reduce the "deficit" of explained glacial – interglacial CO2 change.
Skinner, L. C.: Glacial – interglacial atmospheric CO2 change: a simple "hypsometric effect" on deep-ocean carbon sequestration?, Clim. Past Discuss., 2, 711-743, doi:10.5194/cpd-2-711-2006, 2006.