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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 1, 2024
  2. Plant wax n-alkanes serve as reliable biomarkers given their abundance, stability, and distribution in the sedimentary record. As a result, their utility as isotopic indicators of vegetation and hydroclimate is well-established. A less well studied aspect of plant n-alkanes is the use of their molecular distributions, or differences in the relative abundances of homologues, for chemotaxonomy. Limited plant n-alkane datasets from southern and western Africa suggest molecular distributions can differentiate C4 grasses from C3 woody vegetation. Here we examine a suite of plants from East Africa, where almost no plant biomarkers data exists from modern plants. In this study, over 100 samples of 19 species of plants were collected monthly from the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya from October 2001 to March 2003, across multiple growing seasons; n-alkane distributions and concentrations from both individual species and designated plant functional types (PFTs) - based on both photosynthetic pathway and growth form - were investigated. Previously published n-alkane data from western and southern Africa, or the "All Africa" dataset, were examined to further understand potential spatial differences in biomarker distributions. n-alkane distributions in both datasets vary in both individual species and within PFTs. Principal Components Analysis (PCA) was used to analyze distributions of n-alkanes in individual species and in PFTs, to determine the primary sources of variability. Results indicate that n-alkane distributions can be used to separate some individual species - namely, C4 grasses - and can be used to separate PFTs. C4 grasses and C3 woody vegetation were successfully separated in both datasets. Additionally, we found that n-alkane concentrations vary by four orders of magnitude across homologues and PFTs. A compiled African plant data set shows that C31 concentration is the most representative of the plant community for C4 grasses, C3 shrubs, and C3 trees and thus, is most ideal for stable isotope vegetation reconstructions. These data suggest that an organic geochemical approach to plant taxonomy is crucial to future biomarker applications for reconstructing vegetation distribution and structure in past ecosystems. 
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  4. Neogene ocean temperatures are characterized by sustained warmth during the mid-Miocene Climatic Optimum followed by gradual cooling through the late Miocene culminating in Northern Hemisphere glaciation in the early Pleistocene. While the magnitude of sea surface temperature (SST) cooling is enhanced at higher latitudes, existing records suggest that the timing is nearly synchronous across the world's oceans. However, the Nordic Seas, north of the Greenland-Scotland Ridge (GSR), experienced rapid cooling steps (14.5-14 Ma, 12.5-12 Ma, 8-6 Ma) that are out of sync with the global SST cooling trend. Here we present a new alkenone paleo-SST record from Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) site 985 in the western Norwegian Sea (66°56' N, 6°27' W) and investigate the relationships between rapid SST change, depth of the GSR, ocean circulation, and deep-water formation using proxy and model data. We find significant (p < 0.01) inverse relationships between the depth of the GSR and SSTs at ODP sites north of the ridge (985 and 907), positive relationships between GSR depth and the SST gradient across the ridge, and inverse relationships between deep water production and SST at ODP sites 985 and 907. In sum, these observations suggest that during global Miocene cooling, intervals of GSR deepening allowed for increased sea water exchange and an invigoration of deep-water production in the North Atlantic. We posit that enhanced surficial cyclonic flow in the Nordic Seas and a strengthened East Greenland Current caused rapid cooling in the western Nordic Seas. This cooling is consistent with Pliocene coupled climate model runs with altered tectonic boundary conditions simulating a deeper GSR, implying that this SST response to changes to GSR depth may be an important mechanism in high latitude Neogene climate. Furthermore, a strong linear relationship (r2 = 0.84) between ODP 985 SST and global deep ocean δ13C suggests that ocean circulation responses to tectonically forced variability in the GSR may have had an important impact on the Neogene carbon cycle. 
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