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The Cenozoic palaeoenvironment of the Arctic Ocean


The history of the Arctic Ocean during the Cenozoic era (0–65 million years ago) is largely unknown from direct evidence. Here we present a Cenozoic palaeoceanographic record constructed from >400 m of sediment core from a recent drilling expedition to the Lomonosov ridge in the Arctic Ocean. Our record shows a palaeoenvironmental transition from a warm ‘greenhouse’ world, during the late Palaeocene and early Eocene epochs, to a colder ‘icehouse’ world influenced by sea ice and icebergs from the middle Eocene epoch to the present. For the most recent 14 Myr, we find sedimentation rates of 1–2 cm per thousand years, in stark contrast to the substantially lower rates proposed in earlier studies; this record of the Neogene reveals cooling of the Arctic that was synchronous with the expansion of Greenland ice (3.2 Myr ago) and East Antarctic ice (14 Myr ago). We find evidence for the first occurrence of ice-rafted debris in the middle Eocene epoch (45 Myr ago), some 35 Myr earlier than previously thought; fresh surface waters were present at 49 Myr ago, before the onset of ice-rafted debris. Also, the temperatures of surface waters during the Palaeocene/Eocene thermal maximum (55 Myr ago) appear to have been substantially warmer than previously estimated. The revised timing of the earliest Arctic cooling events coincides with those from Antarctica, supporting arguments for bipolar symmetry in climate change.

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Figure 1: Physiographic map of the Arctic Ocean.
Figure 2: Cross-section of the Lomonosov ridge.
Figure 3: Synthesis of the ACEX coring results.


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We thank the IODP European Science Operator (ESO), led by the British Geological Survey; the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat, who provided shiptime for Oden as well as the ice and fleet management; icebreaker Captains Årnell, Backman, Davidjan, Haave, Shirley, Smith and Vikström, and the crews of Oden, Vidar Viking and Sovetskiy Soyuz; and Seacore Ltd, who provided the drilling services. This research used samples and data provided by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program. Author Contributions J.B. was the lead investigator on the ACEX proposal to IODP. K.M. and J.B. conducted much of the project planning with support from J.F. J.B. and K.M. led the expedition. Ship- and shore-based core analyses were conducted by the IODP 302 science party (H.B., S.C.C., T.C., G.R.D., F.E., J.G., M.J., R.W.J., M.K., J.K., N.K., A.K., N.M., J.M., T.C.M., D.M., J.O., M.O., H.P., B.R., D.R., T.S., D.C.S., R.S., K.S., I.S., N.S., K.T., M.W. and M.Y.). Additional sediment analyses were conducted by M.F. and P.K. Geophysical data were collected and analysed by W.J. and Y.K.

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Correspondence to Kathryn Moran.

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Moran, K., Backman, J., Brinkhuis, H. et al. The Cenozoic palaeoenvironment of the Arctic Ocean. Nature 441, 601–605 (2006).

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