High-resolution opal records from the eastern tropical Pacific provide evidence for silicic acid leakage from HNLC regions during glacial periods

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A shift from carbonate- to silica-dominated primary production could significantly affect the oceanic carbon cycle via changes in the particulate carbon rain-rate ratio ( C-organic:C-inorganic fluxes). An increase in C rain rate ratio has been invoked to explain lower glacial pCO(2); however, firm evidence of an ecological shift towards silica-dominated productivity during the last glacial period is lacking. Here, we present new high-resolution reconstructions of biogenic silica and total production over the past 40,000 yr BP in 3 cores from the eastern tropical North Pacific (ETNP) off Mexico and Nicaragua. These records reveal a clear regional pattern of higher siliceous productivity with higher opal accumulation during the last glacial period compared to interglacial times. Higher Si:C and Si:N ratios of glacial sediments in these records suggest a net increase in siliceous production over total production. We attribute this to the additional supply of silicic acid to the ETNP margins favouring diatoms over other non-siliceous algae. This suggestion for increased supply of Si during glacial periods is consistent with the proposed large-scale redistribution of excess silicic acid from High Nitrate Low Chlorophyll (HNLC) regions like the eastern equatorial Pacific (EEP) and the Southern Ocean by the Silicic Acid Leakage Hypothesis (SALH). In these HNLC regions, the Si-isotope composition of diatom frustules (delta Si-30) has provided evidence for the generation of surplus of silicic acid during diatom growth under conditions of higher Fe availability during glacial periods. We suggest that silicic acid leakage from the HNLC regions to the adjoining oceans may have increased the carbon rain rate ratio and ultimately, contributed to the decrease in glacial atmospheric pCO(2).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1112-1121
Number of pages10
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Issue number9-10
Early online date8 Apr 2011
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2011


  • opal
  • Silicic acid
  • Eastern tropical Pacific
  • Productivity
  • Last glacial
  • Carbon dioxide


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