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What Does the Past Tell Us About Ocean Circulation and Climate Change?

May 5, 2021

Examining Bell River deposits in the Canadian Great Plains. [Photo by Andrew Leier, University of South Carolina]

If you want to make good predictions of the future, it sometimes pays to look into the past.  In this case, the distant past.  Dr. Alex Pullen, Assistant Professor in EEES, and his colleagues recently published an article in GSA Bulletin exploring the existence a 30-million-year-old river that rivalled the size of today’s Amazon. The Bell River is long gone, but the impact of freshwater discharges into the ocean is very much relevant today because of acceleration in melt water coming from the Greenland Ice Sheet, brought on by a warming planet.  Working with Julia Corradino, a former master’s student in hydrogeology, and other researchers, Pullen and his team found compelling existence for the Bell River through multiple lines of evidence, including characteristics of sediment deposits and uranium-lead dating. Understanding what happened long ago has provided some important clues to how altering the salinity of the ocean is likely to impact the Earth’s climate in the years ahead. You can read more about this important discovery here.