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Evidence from Cd/Ca ratios in foraminifera for greater upwelling off California 4,000 years ago

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Upwelling of nutrient-rich Pacific deep water along the North American west coast is ultimately driven by the temperature difference between air masses over land and over the ocean. The intensity of upwelling, and biological production in the region, could therefore be affected by anthropogenic climate change. Examination of the geological record is one way to study the link between climate and upwelling. Because Pacific deep water is enriched in cadmium, dissolved cadmium concentrations in coastal water off central California reflect the intensity of upwelling. By demonstrating that the Cd/Ca ratio in the shell of a benthic foraminifer, Elphidiella hannai, is proportional to the Cd concentration in coastal water, we show here that foraminiferal Cd/Ca ratios can be used to detect past changes in mean upwelling intensity. Examination of a sediment core from the mouth of San Francisco Bay reveals that foraminiferal Cd/Ca decreased by about 30% from 4,000 years ago to the present, probably because of a reduction in coastal upwelling. This observation is consistent with predictions of atmospheric general circulation models that northwesterly winds, which drive upwelling, became weaker over this period as summer insolation of the Northern Hemisphere decreased. © 1992 Nature Publishing Group.

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