Articles | Volume 10, issue 4
Clim. Past, 10, 1421–1439, 2014
Clim. Past, 10, 1421–1439, 2014

Research article 25 Jul 2014

Research article | 25 Jul 2014

Warming, euxinia and sea level rise during the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum on the Gulf Coastal Plain: implications for ocean oxygenation and nutrient cycling

A. Sluijs1, L. van Roij1, G. J. Harrington2, S. Schouten3,4, J. A. Sessa5,6, L. J. LeVay6,7, G.-J. Reichart3,4, and C. P. Slomp4 A. Sluijs et al.
  • 1Marine Palynology and Paleoceanography, Department of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University, Laboratory of Palaeobotany and Palynology, Budapestlaan 4, 3584CD, Utrecht, the Netherlands
  • 2School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Aston Webb Building, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK
  • 3NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, P.O. Box 59, 1790 AB, Den Burg, Texel, the Netherlands
  • 4Department of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University, Budapestlaan 4, 3584CD, Utrecht, the Netherlands
  • 5Devision of Paleontology, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th St., New York, NY 10024, USA
  • 6Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA
  • 7International Ocean Discovery Program and Department of Geology and Geophysics, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77845, USA

Abstract. The Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM, ~ 56 Ma) was a ~ 200 kyr episode of global warming, associated with massive injections of 13C-depleted carbon into the ocean–atmosphere system. Although climate change during the PETM is relatively well constrained, effects on marine oxygen concentrations and nutrient cycling remain largely unclear. We identify the PETM in a sediment core from the US margin of the Gulf of Mexico. Biomarker-based paleotemperature proxies (methylation of branched tetraether–cyclization of branched tetraether (MBT–CBT) and TEX86) indicate that continental air and sea surface temperatures warmed from 27–29 to ~ 35 °C, although variations in the relative abundances of terrestrial and marine biomarkers may have influenced these estimates. Vegetation changes, as recorded from pollen assemblages, support this warming.

The PETM is bracketed by two unconformities. It overlies Paleocene silt- and mudstones and is rich in angular (thus in situ produced; autochthonous) glauconite grains, which indicate sedimentary condensation. A drop in the relative abundance of terrestrial organic matter and changes in the dinoflagellate cyst assemblages suggest that rising sea level shifted the deposition of terrigenous material landward. This is consistent with previous findings of eustatic sea level rise during the PETM. Regionally, the attribution of the glauconite-rich unit to the PETM implicates the dating of a primate fossil, argued to represent the oldest North American specimen on record.

The biomarker isorenieratene within the PETM indicates that euxinic photic zone conditions developed, likely seasonally, along the Gulf Coastal Plain. A global data compilation indicates that O2 concentrations dropped in all ocean basins in response to warming, hydrological change, and carbon cycle feedbacks. This culminated in (seasonal) anoxia along many continental margins, analogous to modern trends. Seafloor deoxygenation and widespread (seasonal) anoxia likely caused phosphorus regeneration from suboxic and anoxic sediments. We argue that this fueled shelf eutrophication, as widely recorded from microfossil studies, increasing organic carbon burial along many continental margins as a negative feedback to carbon input and global warming. If properly quantified with future work, the PETM offers the opportunity to assess the biogeochemical effects of enhanced phosphorus regeneration, as well as the timescales on which this feedback operates in view of modern and future ocean deoxygenation.