Group 2i Isochrysidales produce characteristic alkenones reflecting sea ice distribution
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Alkenones are biomarkers produced solely by algae in the order Isochrysidales that have been used to reconstruct sea surface temperature (SST) since the 1980s. However, alkenone based SST reconstructions in the northern high latitude oceans show significant bias towards warmer temperatures in core-tops, diverge from other SST proxies in down core records, and are often accompanied by anomalously high relative abundance of the C37 tetra-unsaturated methyl alkenone (%C37:4). Elevated %C37:4 is widely interpreted as an indicator of low sea surface salinity from polar water masses, but its biological source has thus far remained elusive. Here we identify a lineage of Isochrysidales that is responsible for elevated C37:4 methyl alkenone in the northern high latitude oceans through next-generation sequencing and lab-culture experiments. This Isochrysidales lineage co-occurs widely with sea ice in marine environments and is distinct from other known marine alkenone-producers, namely Emiliania huxleyi and Gephyrocapsa oceanica. More importantly, the %C37:4 in seawater filtered particulate organic matter and surface sediments is significantly correlated with annual mean sea ice concentrations. In sediment cores from the Svalbard region, the %C37:4 concentration aligns with the Greenland temperature record and other qualitative regional sea ice records spanning the past 14 kyrs, reflecting sea ice concentrations quantitatively. Our findings imply that %C37:4 is a powerful proxy for reconstructing sea ice conditions in the high latitude oceans on thousand- and, potentially, on million-year timescales.