Letter | Published:

Release of methane from a volcanic basin as a mechanism for initial Eocene global warming

Nature volume 429, pages 542545 (03 June 2004) | Download Citation



A 200,000-yr interval of extreme global warming marked the start of the Eocene epoch about 55 million years ago. Negative carbon- and oxygen-isotope excursions in marine and terrestrial sediments show that this event was linked to a massive and rapid (10,000 yr) input of isotopically depleted carbon1,2. It has been suggested previously that extensive melting of gas hydrates buried in marine sediments may represent the carbon source3,4 and has caused the global climate change. Large-scale hydrate melting, however, requires a hitherto unknown triggering mechanism. Here we present evidence for the presence of thousands of hydrothermal vent complexes identified on seismic reflection profiles from the Vøring and Møre basins in the Norwegian Sea. We propose that intrusion of voluminous mantle-derived melts in carbon-rich sedimentary strata in the northeast Atlantic may have caused an explosive release of methane—transported to the ocean or atmosphere through the vent complexes—close to the Palaeocene/Eocene boundary. Similar volcanic and metamorphic processes may explain climate events associated with other large igneous provinces such as the Siberian Traps (250 million years ago) and the Karoo Igneous Province (183 million years ago).

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This study was supported by grants (H.S. and B.J.) from the Norwegian Research Council. We thank TGS-NOPEC for access to seismic data, H. Selnes for the biostratigraphic dating, and G. R. Dickens and J. G. Feder for comments on the manuscript.

Author information


  1. Physics of Geological Processes, University of Oslo, PO Box 1048 Blindern, 0316 Oslo, Norway

    • Henrik Svensen
    • , Sverre Planke
    • , Anders Malthe-Sørenssen
    •  & Bjørn Jamtveit
  2. Volcanic Basin Petroleum Research (VBPR), Oslo Research Park, 0349 Oslo, Norway

    • Sverre Planke
    • , Torfinn Rasmussen Eidem
    •  & Sebastian S. Rey
  3. TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Company, 3478 Nærsnes, Norway

    • Reidun Myklebust


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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Henrik Svensen or Sverre Planke.

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