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Very large release of mostly volcanic carbon during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum

Very large release of mostly volcanic carbon during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum
Very large release of mostly volcanic carbon during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum
The Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum1, 2 (PETM) was a global warming event that occurred about 56 million years ago, and is commonly thought to have been driven primarily by the destabilization of carbon from surface sedimentary reservoirs such as methane hydrates3. However, it remains controversial whether such reservoirs were indeed the source of the carbon that drove the warming1, 3, 4, 5. Resolving this issue is key to understanding the proximal cause of the warming, and to quantifying the roles of triggers versus feedbacks. Here we present boron isotope data—a proxy for seawater pH—that show that the ocean surface pH was persistently low during the PETM. We combine our pH data with a paired carbon isotope record in an Earth system model in order to reconstruct the unfolding carbon-cycle dynamics during the event6, 7. We find strong evidence for a much larger (more than 10,000 petagrams)—and, on average, isotopically heavier—carbon source than considered previously8, 9. This leads us to identify volcanism associated with the North Atlantic Igneous Province10, 11, rather than carbon from a surface reservoir, as the main driver of the PETM. This finding implies that climate-driven amplification of organic carbon feedbacks probably played only a minor part in driving the event. However, we find that enhanced burial of organic matter seems to have been important in eventually sequestering the released carbon and accelerating the recovery of the Earth system12.
0028-0836
573-577
Gutjahr, Marcus
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Ridgwell, Andy
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Sexton, Philip F.
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Anagnostou, Eleni
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Pearson, Paul N.
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Pälike, Heiko
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Norris, Richard D.
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Thomas, Ellen
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Foster, Gavin L.
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Gutjahr, Marcus
5babbbc4-2a1a-48df-a2e3-d87b2483ea9c
Ridgwell, Andy
769cea5c-e033-456a-8b53-51dfa307dc35
Sexton, Philip F.
e461e50e-fb4e-4d13-9013-5155be9f90ce
Anagnostou, Eleni
4527c274-f765-44ce-89ab-0e437aa3d870
Pearson, Paul N.
76269a23-3411-45a1-bc81-b3a668ef1d13
Pälike, Heiko
41eaa71b-043f-4e6d-87b3-ac5e6ea239c5
Norris, Richard D.
9e0dfa1e-0c69-4666-bbf9-a5a14909d8f9
Thomas, Ellen
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Foster, Gavin L.
fbaa7255-7267-4443-a55e-e2a791213022

Gutjahr, Marcus, Ridgwell, Andy, Sexton, Philip F., Anagnostou, Eleni, Pearson, Paul N., Pälike, Heiko, Norris, Richard D., Thomas, Ellen and Foster, Gavin L. (2017) Very large release of mostly volcanic carbon during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. Nature, 548, 573-577. (doi:10.1038/nature23646).

Record type: Article

Abstract

The Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum1, 2 (PETM) was a global warming event that occurred about 56 million years ago, and is commonly thought to have been driven primarily by the destabilization of carbon from surface sedimentary reservoirs such as methane hydrates3. However, it remains controversial whether such reservoirs were indeed the source of the carbon that drove the warming1, 3, 4, 5. Resolving this issue is key to understanding the proximal cause of the warming, and to quantifying the roles of triggers versus feedbacks. Here we present boron isotope data—a proxy for seawater pH—that show that the ocean surface pH was persistently low during the PETM. We combine our pH data with a paired carbon isotope record in an Earth system model in order to reconstruct the unfolding carbon-cycle dynamics during the event6, 7. We find strong evidence for a much larger (more than 10,000 petagrams)—and, on average, isotopically heavier—carbon source than considered previously8, 9. This leads us to identify volcanism associated with the North Atlantic Igneous Province10, 11, rather than carbon from a surface reservoir, as the main driver of the PETM. This finding implies that climate-driven amplification of organic carbon feedbacks probably played only a minor part in driving the event. However, we find that enhanced burial of organic matter seems to have been important in eventually sequestering the released carbon and accelerating the recovery of the Earth system12.

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Gutjahr et al. (accepted Nature) - Accepted Manuscript
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Accepted/In Press date: 6 July 2017
e-pub ahead of print date: 30 August 2017
Published date: 31 August 2017

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Local EPrints ID: 413960
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/413960
ISSN: 0028-0836
PURE UUID: 22e3eeb1-546f-4249-8b74-991357055e27
ORCID for Gavin L. Foster: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0003-3688-9668

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Date deposited: 11 Sep 2017 16:31
Last modified: 18 Feb 2021 17:14

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Contributors

Author: Marcus Gutjahr
Author: Andy Ridgwell
Author: Philip F. Sexton
Author: Eleni Anagnostou
Author: Paul N. Pearson
Author: Heiko Pälike
Author: Richard D. Norris
Author: Ellen Thomas
Author: Gavin L. Foster ORCID iD

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