A strong oxygen-minimum zone (OMZ) currently exists along the California margin because of a combination of high surface-water productivity and poor intermediate-water ventilation. However, the strength of this OMZ may have been sensitive to late Quaternary ocean-circulation and productivity changes along the margin. Although sediment-lamination strength has been used to trace ocean-oxygenation changes in the past, oxygen levels on the open margin are not sufficiently low for laminations to form. In these regions, benthic foraminifera are highly sensitive monitors of OMZ strength, and their fossil assemblages can be used to reconstruct past fluctuations. Benthic foraminiferal assemblages from Ocean Drilling Program Site 1017, off Point Conception, exhibit major and rapid faunal oscillations in response to late Quaternary millennial-scale climate change (Dansgaard-Oeschger cycles) on the open central California margin. These faunal oscillations can be correlated to and are apparently synchronous with those reported from Santa Barbara Basin. Together they represent major fluctuations in the strength of the OMZ which were intimately associated with global climate change—weakening, perhaps disappearing, during cool periods and strengthening during warm periods. These rapid, major OMZ strength fluctuations were apparently widespread on the Northeast Pacific margin and must have influenced the evolution of margin biota and altered biogeochemical cycles with potential feedbacks to global climate change.

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