Reconstructing Past Ocean Salinity ((delta)18Owater)

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Temperature and salinity are two of the key properties of ocean water masses. The distribution of these two independent but related characteristics reflects the interplay of incoming solar radiation (insolation) and the uneven distribution of heat loss and gain by the ocean, with that of precipitation, evaporation, and the freezing and melting of ice. Temperature and salinity to a large extent, determine the density of a parcel of water. Small differences in temperature and salinity can increase or decrease the density of a water parcel, which can lead to convection. Once removed from the surface of the ocean where 'local' ... continued below

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Guilderson, T. P. & Pak, D. K. November 23, 2005.

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Temperature and salinity are two of the key properties of ocean water masses. The distribution of these two independent but related characteristics reflects the interplay of incoming solar radiation (insolation) and the uneven distribution of heat loss and gain by the ocean, with that of precipitation, evaporation, and the freezing and melting of ice. Temperature and salinity to a large extent, determine the density of a parcel of water. Small differences in temperature and salinity can increase or decrease the density of a water parcel, which can lead to convection. Once removed from the surface of the ocean where 'local' changes in temperature and salinity can occur, the water parcel retains its distinct relationship between (potential) temperature and salinity. We can take advantage of this 'conservative' behavior where changes only occur as a result of mixing processes, to track the movement of water in the deep ocean (Figure 1). The distribution of density in the ocean is directly related to horizontal pressure gradients and thus (geostrophic) ocean currents. During the Quaternary when we have had systematic growth and decay of large land based ice sheets, salinity has had to change. A quick scaling argument following that of Broecker and Peng [1982] is: the modern ocean has a mean salinity of 34.7 psu and is on average 3500m deep. During glacial maxima sea level was on the order of {approx}120m lower than present. Simply scaling the loss of freshwater (3-4%) requires an average increase in salinity a similar percentage or to {approx}35.9psu. Because much of the deep ocean is of similar temperature, small changes in salinity have a large impact on density, yielding a potentially different distribution of water masses and control of the density driven (thermohaline) ocean circulation. It is partly for this reason that reconstructions of past salinity are of interest to paleoceanographers.

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PDF-file: 29 pages; size: 1.1 Mbytes

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  • Encyclopedia of Quaternary Science, Reconstructing Past Ocean Salinity (and d18O water), Elsevier, Amsterdam, 2006, Quat00309

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  • Report No.: UCRL-BOOK-217328
  • Grant Number: W-7405-ENG-48
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 936473
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc895647

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Office of Scientific & Technical Information Technical Reports

Reports, articles and other documents harvested from the Office of Scientific and Technical Information.

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  • November 23, 2005

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • Sept. 27, 2016, 1:39 a.m.

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  • Oct. 7, 2016, 5:53 p.m.

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Guilderson, T. P. & Pak, D. K. Reconstructing Past Ocean Salinity ((delta)18Owater), book, November 23, 2005; Livermore, California. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc895647/: accessed December 15, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.