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Termination of global warmth at the Palaeocene/Eocene boundary through productivity feedback

Nature volume 407, pages 171174 (14 September 2000) | Download Citation

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Abstract

The onset of the Palaeocene/Eocene thermal maximum (about 55 Myr ago) was marked by global surface temperatures warming by 5–7 °C over approximately 30,000 yr (ref. 1), probably because of enhanced mantle outgassing2,3 and the pulsed release of 1,500 gigatonnes of methane carbon from decomposing gas-hydrate reservoirs4,5,6,7. The aftermath of this rapid, intense and global warming event may be the best example in the geological record of the response of the Earth to high atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and high temperatures. This response has been suggested to include an intensified flux of organic carbon from the ocean surface to the deep ocean and its subsequent burial through biogeochemical feedback mechanisms8. Here we present firm evidence for this view from two ocean drilling cores, which record the largest accumulation rates of biogenic barium—indicative of export palaeoproductivity—at times of maximum global temperatures and peak excursion values of δ13C. The unusually rapid return of δ13C to values similar to those before the methane release7 and the apparent coupling of the accumulation rates of biogenic barium to temperature, suggests that the enhanced deposition of organic matter to the deep sea may have efficiently cooled this greenhouse climate by the rapid removal of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

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Acknowledgements

We thank N. Paige, S. James, N. Walsh, S. Wyatt and J. Cartlidge for their technical assistance; and G. Dickens, M. Delaney and A. Paytan for discussions and comments. We also thank A. Paytan for use of her laboratory to separate barite. Samples for this study were taken from cores drilled and supplied by the Ocean Drilling Program. The Natural Environment Research Council (UK), NSF and JOI/USSP supported this work.

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Affiliations

  1. *Department of Earth Sciences, Parks Road, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3PR, UK

    • Santo Bains
    •  & Richard M. Corfield
  2. †Department of Geology and Geophysics, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02540-1541, USA

    • Richard D. Norris
  3. ‡Earth Sciences Department, University of California, Santa Cruz, California 95064 , USA

    • Kristina L. Faul

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Correspondence to Santo Bains.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/35025035

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