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The silicon cycle impacted by past ice sheets

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article number3210
Number of pages10
JournalNature Communications
DateAccepted/In press - 27 Apr 2018
DatePublished (current) - 10 Aug 2018


Globally averaged riverine silicon (Si) concentrations and isotope composition (δ30Si) may be affected by the expansion and retreat of large ice sheets during glacial−interglacial cycles. Here we provide evidence of this based on the δ30Si composition of meltwater runoff from a Greenland Ice Sheet catchment. Glacier runoff has the lightest δ30Si measured in running waters (−0.25 ± 0.12‰), significantly lower than nonglacial rivers (1.25 ± 0.68‰), such that the overall decline in glacial runoff since the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) may explain 0.06–0.17‰ of the observed ocean δ30Si rise (0.5–1.0‰). A marine sediment core proximal to Iceland provides further evidence for transient, low-δ30Si meltwater pulses during glacial termination. Diatom Si uptake during the LGM was likely similar to present day due to an expanded Si inventory, which raises the possibility of a feedback between ice sheet expansion, enhanced Si export to the ocean and reduced CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, because of the importance of diatoms in the biological carbon pump.

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