Pronounced transient global warming events between 60 and 50 million years ago have been linked to rapid injection of isotopically-light carbon to the ocean–atmosphere system1, 2. It is, however, unclear whether the largest of the hyperthermals, the Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM; ref. 3), had a similar origin4, 5 as the subsequent greenhouse climate events1, 6, such as the Eocene Thermal Maximum 2 and H2 events. The timing and evolution of these events is well documented in marine records7, 8, but is not well constrained on land. Here we report carbon isotope records from palaeosol carbonate nodules from the Bighorn Basin, Wyoming, USA that record the hyperthermals. Our age model is derived from cyclostratigraphy, and shows a similar structure of events in the terrestrial and marine records. Moreover, the magnitude of the terrestrial isotope excursions is consistently scaled with the marine records, suggesting that the severity of local palaeoenvironmetal change during each event was proportional to the size of the global carbon isotope excursion. We interpret this consistency as an indication of similar mechanisms of carbon release during all three hyperthermals. However, unlike during the PETM (refs 9, 10), terrestrial environmental change during the subsequent hyperthermals is not linked to substantial turnover of mammalian fauna in the Bighorn Basin.
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