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Planetary fertility during the past 400 ka based on the triple isotope composition of O2 in trapped gases from the Vostok ice core

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Author(s): T. Blunier | M. L. Bender | B. Barnett | J. C. von Fisher

Journal: Climate of the Past Discussions
ISSN 1814-9340

Volume: 8;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 435;
Date: 2012;
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ABSTRACT
The productivity of the biosphere leaves its imprint on the isotopic composition of atmospheric oxygen. Ultimately atmospheric oxygen, through photosynthesis, originates from seawater. Fractionations during the passage from seawater to atmospheric O2 and during respiration are mass dependent, affecting δ17O about half as much as δ18O. An "anomalous" (also termed mass independent) fractionation process changes δ17O about 1.7 times as much as δ18O during isotope exchange between O2 and CO2 in the stratosphere. The relative rates of biological O2 production and stratospheric processing determine the relationship between δ17O and δ18O of O2 in the atmosphere. Variations of this relationship thus allow us to estimate changes in the rate of mass dependent O2 production by photosynthesis vs. the rate of mass independent O2-CO2 exchange in the stratosphere. However, the analysis of the 17O anomaly is complicated because each hydrological and biological process influencing δ17O and δ18O fractionates 17O and 18O in slightly different proportions. In this study we present oxygen data covering the last 400 kyr from the Vostok ice core. We reconstruct oxygen productivities from the triple isotope composition of atmospheric oxygen with a box model. Our steady state model for the oxygen cycle takes into account fractionation during photosynthesis and respiration of the land and ocean biosphere as well as fractionation when oxygen passes through the stratosphere. We consider changes of fractionation factors linked to climate variations taking into account the span of estimates of the main factors affecting our calculations. We find that ocean oxygen productivity was likely elevated relative to modern during glacials. However, this increase probably did not fully compensate for a reduction in land ocean productivity resulting in a slight reduction in total oxygen production during glacials.
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