Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum

Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum

The Paleocene/Eocene boundary, Ma|eocene, was marked by the most rapid and significant climatic disturbance of the Cenozoic Era. A sudden global warming event, leading to the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM, alternatively nowrap|"Eocene thermal maximum 1" (ETM1), and formerly known as the "Initial Eocene" or "nowrap|Late Paleocene Thermal Maximum",Katz, M., et al. (1999). "The Source and Fate of Massive Carbon Input During the Late Paleocene Thermal Maximum." "Science" 286 (November): 1531-3.] (IETM/LPTM)), is associated with changes in oceanic and atmospheric circulation, the extinction of numerous deep-sea benthic foraminifera, and a major turnover in mammalian life on land which is coincident with the emergence of many of today's major mammalian orders.

The event saw global temperatures rise by around 6oC over 20,000 years, with a corresponding rise in sea level as the whole of the oceans warmed. [Kennett, J.P. & Stott, L.D. 1991. Abrupt deep-sea warming, palaeoceanographic changes and benthic extinctions at the end of the Palaeocene. Nature, 353: 225-229] Atmospheric carbon dioxide (co2) concentrations rose, causing a shallowing of the lysocline. Regional deep water wict|anoxia may have played a part in marine extinctions. The event is linked to a negative excursion in the d13c isotope record, which occurs in two short (~1,000 year) pulses. These probably represent degassing of clathrates ("methane ice" deposits), which accentuated a pre-existing warming trend. The release of these clathrates, and ultimately the event itself, may have been triggered by a range of causes. Evidence currently seems to favour an increase in volcanic activity as the main perpetrator.


The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum lasted around 20,000 years, and was superimposed on a 6 million year period of more gradual global warming, peaking later in the Eocene at the "Eocene climatic optimum". Other "hyperthermal" events can be recognised during this period of cooling, including the Elmo event (ETM2). During these events, of which the PETM was by far the most severe, around 1,500 to 2,000 gigatons of carbon were released into the ocean/atmosphere system over the course of 1,000 years. This rate of carbon addition almost equals the rate at which carbon is being released into the atmosphere today through anthropogenic activity.

The globe was subtly different during the Eocene. The Panama Isthmus did not yet connect North and South America, allowing circulation between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Further, the Drake Passage was shut, preventing the thermal isolation of Antarctica. This, combined with higher co2 levels, meant that there were no significant ice sheets - the globe was essentially ice free.cite journal
author = Zachos, J.C.
coauthors = Dickens, G.R.; Zeebe, R.E.
year = 2008
title = An early Cenozoic perspective on greenhouse warming and carbon-cycle dynamics
journal = Nature
volume = 451
issue = 7176
pages = 279–83
doi = 10.1038/nature06588


Our strongest evidence for climate change comes from a global, synchronous and uniform excursion in the delta|13|C|link record, of −2-3 ‰. Its magnitude is larger in terrestrial environments.cite journal
author = Norris, R.D.
coauthors = Röhl, U.
year = 1999
title = Carbon cycling and chronology of climate warming during the Palaeocene/Eocene transition
journal = Nature
volume = 401
issue = 6755
pages = 775–778

doi = 10.1038/44545] This excursion implies the release of large amounts of 12c into the ocean and atmosphere, and implies the release of at least 6,800 Pg C.cite journal
author = Panchuk, K.
coauthors = Ridgwell, A.; Kump, L.R.
year = 2008
title = Sedimentary response to Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum carbon release: A model-data comparison
journal = Geology
volume = 36
issue = 4
pages = 315–318
doi = 10.1130/G24474A.1

The timing of the PETM d13c excursion has been calculated in two complementary ways. The iconic core covering this time period is the ODP's Core 690, and the timing is based exclusively on this core's record. The original timing was calculated assuming a constant sedimentation rate.cite journal
author = Rohl, U.
coauthors = Bralower, T.J.; Norris, R.D.; Wefer, G.
year = 2000
title = New chronology for the late Paleocene thermal maximum and its environmental implications
journal = Geology
volume = 28
issue = 10
pages = 927–930
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-28

doi = 10.1130/0091-7613(2000)28<927:NCFTLP>2.0.CO;2] This model was improved using the assumption that 3he flux is constant; this cosmogenic nuclide is produced at a (roughly) constant rate by the sun, and there is little reason to assume large fluctuations in the solar wind across this short time period.cite journal
author = Farley, K.A.
coauthors = Eltgroth, S.F.
year = 2003
title = An alternative age model for the Paleocene&mdash;Eocene thermal maximum using extraterrestrial 3He
journal = Earth and Planetary Science Letters
volume = 208
issue = 3-4
pages = 135–148
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-28

doi = 10.1016/S0012-821X(03)00017-7] Both models have their failings, but agree on a few points. Importantly, they both detect two steps in the drop of d13c, each lasting about 1000 years, and separated by about 20,000 years. The models diverge most in their estimate of the recovery time, which ranges from 150,000 to 30,000 years. There is other evidence to suggest that warming predated the d13c excursion by some 3,000 years.



Average global temperatures increased by ~6oC in the space of 20,000 years. This is based on Mg/Ca and delta|18|O|link values of forams. d18o is a more useful proxy for palæotemperature during the Eocene, as the lack of ice makes it safe to assume that the oceans' delta|18|O signature is constant.cite journal
author = Thomas, E.
coauthors = Shackleton, N.J.
year = 1996
title = The Paleocene-Eocene benthic foraminiferal extinction and stable isotope anomalies
journal = Geological Society London Special Publications
volume = 101
issue = 1
pages = 401
doi = 10.1144/GSL.SP.1996.101.01.20
] Due to the positive feedback effect of melting ice reducing albedo, temperature increases would have been greatest at the poles, which reached an average annual temperature of 10-20oC;cite journal
author = Shellito, C.J.
coauthors = Sloan, L.C.; Huber, M.
year = 2003
title = Climate model sensitivity to atmospheric CO2 levels in the Early-Middle Paleogene
journal = Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
volume = 193
issue = 1
pages = 113–123
doi = 10.1016/S0031-0182(02)00718-6
] the surface waters of the northernmost [Drill cores were recovered from the Lomonosov ridge, presently at 87°N] Arctic ocean warmed, seasonally at least, enough to support tropical lifeforms [the dinoflagellates "Apectodinium augustum"] requiring surface temperatures of over 22°C.cite journal
author = Sluijs, A.
coauthors = Schouten, S.; Pagani, M.; Woltering, M.; Brinkhuis, H.; Damsté, J.S.S.; Dickens, G.R.; Huber, M.; Reichart, G.J.; Stein, R.; Others,
year = 2006
title = Subtropical Arctic Ocean temperatures during the Palaeocene/Eocene thermal maximum
journal = Nature
volume = 441
issue = 7093
pages = 610–613
doi = 10.1038/nature04668

The climate would also have become much wetter, with the increase in evaporation rates peaking in the tropics. Deuterium isotopes reveal that much more of this moisture was transported polewards than normal.cite journal
author = Pagani, M.
coauthors = Pedentchouk, N.; Huber, M.; Sluijs, A.; Schouten, S.; Brinkhuis, H.; Sinninghe Damsté, J.S.; Dickens, G.R.; Others,
year = 2006
title = Arctic hydrology during global warming at the Palaeocene/Eocene thermal maximum
journal = Nature
volume = 442
issue = 7103
pages = 671–675

doi = 10.1038/nature05043] This would have resulted in the largely isolated Arctic ocean taking a more freshwater character as northern hemisphere rainfall was channelled towards it.

ea level

Despite the global lack of ice, the sea level would have risen due to thermal expansion.Evidence for this can be found in the shifting palynomorph assemblages of the Arctic ocean, which reflect a relative decrease in terrestrial organic material compared to marine organic matter.


At the start of the PETM, the ocean circulation patterns changed radically in the course of under 5,000 years. Global-scale current directions reversed; for example, deep water in the Atlantic flowed from north to south instead of the usual south to north. This "backwards" flow persisted for 40,000 years.cite journal
author = Nunes, F.
coauthors = Norris, R.D.
year = 2006
title = Abrupt reversal in ocean overturning during the Palaeocene/Eocene warm period
journal = Nature
volume = 439
issue = 7072
pages = 60–3
doi = 10.1038/nature04386
] Such a change would transport warm water to the deep oceans, enhancing further warming.


The lysocline marks the depth at which the deposition rate of carbonate is equal to the rate of dissolution: today, this is at about 4 km, comparable to the median depth of the oceans. This depth depends on (among other things) temperature and the amount of co2 dissolved in the ocean. Adding co2 initially shallows the lysocline,cite journal
author = Dickens, G.R.
coauthors = Castillo, M.M.; Walker, J.C.G.
year = 1997
title = A blast of gas in the latest Paleocene; simulating first-order effects of massive dissociation of oceanic methane hydrate
journal = Geology
volume = 25
issue = 3
pages = 259–262
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-28

doi = 10.1130/0091-7613(1997)025<0259:ABOGIT>2.3.CO;2] resulting in the dissolution of deep water carbonates. This deep-water acidification can be observed in ocean cores, which show (where bioturbation has not destroyed the signal) an abrupt change from grey carbonate ooze to red clays (followed by a gradual grading back to grey).cite journal
author = Zachos, J.C.
coauthors = Röhl, U.; Schellenberg, S.A.; Sluijs, A.; Hodell, D.A.; Kelly, D.C.; Thomas, E.; Nicolo, M.; Raffi, I.; Lourens, L.J.; "et al".
year = 2005
title = Rapid Acidification of the Ocean During the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum
journal = Science
volume = 308
issue = 5728
pages = 1611–1615
doi = 10.1126/science.1109004
pmid = 15947184
] It is far more pronounced in north Atlantic cores than elsewhere, suggesting that acidification was more concentrated here, related to a greater rise in the level of the lysocline.cite journal
author = Zachos, J.C.
coauthors = Röhl, U.; Schellenberg, S.A.; Sluijs, A.; Hodell, D.A.; Kelly, D.C.; Thomas, E.; Nicolo, M.; Raffi, I.; Lourens, L.J.; "et al".
year = 2005
title = Rapid Acidification of the Ocean During the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum
journal = Science
volume = 308
issue = 5728
pages = 1611-1615
doi = 10.1126/science.1109004
] In parts of the south east Atlantic, the lysocline rose by 2 km in just a few thousand years.


In parts of the oceans, especially the north Atlantic Ocean, bioturbation is absent. This may be due to bottom-water anoxia, or by changing ocean circulation patterns changing the temperatures of the bottom water. However, many ocean basins remain bioturbated through the PETM.


The PETM is accompanied by a mass extinction of 35-50% of wict|benthic foramanifera (especially in deeper waters) over the course of ~1000 years - the group suffering more than during the dinosaur-slaying K-T extinction. Contrarily, planktonic foramanifera diversified, and dinoflagellates bloomed. Success was also enjoyed by the mammals, who radiated profusely around this time.

The deep sea extinctions are difficult to explain, as many were regional in extent (mainly affecting the north Atlantic): this means that we cannot appeal to general hypotheses such as a temperature-related reduction in oxygen availability, or increased corrosiveness due to carbonate-undersaturated deep waters. The only factor which was global in extent was an increase in temperature, and it appears that the majority of the blame must rest upon its shoulders. Regional extinctions in the North Atlantic can be attributed to increased deep-sea anoxia, which could be due to the slowdown of overturning ocean currents, or the release and rapid oxidation of large amounts of methane.cite journal
author = Zachos, J.C.
coauthors = Dickens, G.R.
year = 1999
title = An assessment of the biogeochemical feedback response to the climatic and chemical perturbations of the LPTM
volume = 122
pages = 188–189
journal = GFF
] Verify source|date=April 2008

In shallower waters, it's undeniable that increased co2 levels result in a decreased oceanic pH, which has a profound negative effect on corals.cite journal
author = Langdon, C.
coauthors = Takahashi, T.; Sweeney, C.; Chipman, D.; Goddard, J.; Marubini, F.; Aceves, H.; Barnett, H.; Atkinson, M.J.
year = 2000
title = Effect of calcium carbonate saturation state on the calcification rate of an experimental coral reef
journal = Global Biogeochemical Cycles
volume = 14
issue = 2
pages = 639–654
doi = 10.1029/1999GB001195
accessdate = 2008-02-28
] Experiments suggest it is also very harmful to calcifying plankton.cite journal
author = Riebesell, U.
coauthors = Zondervan, I.; Rost, B.; Tortell, P.D.; Zeebe, R.E.; Morel, F.M.M.
year = 2000
title = Reduced calcification of marine plankton in response to increased atmospheric co2
journal = Nature
volume = 407
issue = 6802
pages = 364–367
doi =
] However, the strong acids used to simulate the natural increase in acidity which would result from elevated co2 concentrations may have given misleading results, and the most recent evidence is that coccolithophores ("E. huxleyi" at least) become "more", not less, calcified and abundant in acidic waters.cite journal|Science 18 April 2008:Vol. 320. no. 5874, pp. 336 - 340
doi= 10.1126/science.1154122|title= Phytoplankton Calcification in a High-CO2 WorldM. Debora Iglesias-Rodriguez,1* Paul R. Halloran,2* Rosalind E. M. Rickaby,2 Ian R. Hall,3 Elena Colmenero-Hidalgo,3{dagger} John R. Gittins,1 Darryl R. H. Green,1 Toby Tyrrell,1 Samantha J. Gibbs,1 Peter von Dassow,4 Eric Rehm,5 E. Virginia Armbrust,5 Karin P. Boessenkool
] Interestingly, no change in the distribution of calcareous nannoplankton such as the coccolithophores can be attributed to acidification during the PETM.cite journal|Science 18 April 2008:Vol. 320. no. 5874, pp. 336 - 340
doi= 10.1126/science.1154122|title= Phytoplankton Calcification in a High-CO2 WorldM. Debora Iglesias-Rodriguez,1* Paul R. Halloran,2* Rosalind E. M. Rickaby,2 Ian R. Hall,3 Elena Colmenero-Hidalgo,3{dagger} John R. Gittins,1 Darryl R. H. Green,1 Toby Tyrrell,1 Samantha J. Gibbs,1 Peter von Dassow,4 Eric Rehm,5 E. Virginia Armbrust,5 Karin P. Boessenkool
] Acidification did lead to an abundance of heavily calcified algaecite journal
author = Bralower, T.J.
year = 2002
title = Evidence of surface water oligotrophy during the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum: Nannofossil assemblage data from Ocean Drilling Program Site 690, Maud Rise, Weddell Sea
journal = Paleoceanography
volume = 17
issue = 2
pages = 1023
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-28
doi = 10.1029/2001PA000662
] and weakly calcified forams.

The increase in mammalian abundance is intriguing. There is no evidence of any increased extinction rate among the terrestrial biota. Increased co2 levels may have promoted dwarfing - which may (perhaps?) have encouraged speciation. Many major mammalian orders, including the Artiodactyla, horses and primates, appeared as if from nowhere, and spread across the globe, 13,000 to 22,000 years after the initiation of the PETM.cite journal
author = Gingerich, P.D.
year = 2003
title = Mammalian responses to climate change at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary: Polecat Bench record in the northern Bighorn Basin, Wyoming
journal = Causes and Consequences of Globally Warm Climates in the Early Paleogene
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-28

volume = 369
pages = 463
doi = 10.1130/0-8137-2369-8.463

Possible causes

Discriminating between different causes of the PETM is difficult. Temperatures were rising globally at a steady pace, and a mechanism must be invoked to produce a sudden spike - which may have been accentuated by positive feedbacks. Our biggest aid in disentangling these factors comes from a consideration of the carbon isotope mass balance. We know the entire exogenic carbon cycle (i.e. the carbon contained within the oceans and atmosphere, which can change on short timescales) underwent a −2-3 ‰ perturbation in d13c, and by considering the isotopic signatures of other carbon reserves, can consider what mass of the reserve would be necessary to produce this effect. The assumption underpinning this approach is that the mass of exogenic carbon was the same in the Palæogene as it is today - something which is very hard to confirm.

Volcanic activity

In order to balance the mass of carbon and produce the observed d13c value, at least 1,500 Gt of carbon would have to be degassed from the mantle via volcanoes over the course of the two 1,000 year steps. To put this in perspective, this is about 200 times the background rate of degassing for the rest of the Palæogene. There is no indication that such a burst of volcanic activity has occurred at any point in Earth's history. However, substantial volcanism had been active in East Greenland for around the preceding million years or so, but this struggles to explain the rapidity of the PETM. Even if the bulk of the 1,500 Gt of carbon was released in a single pulse, further feedbacks would be necessary to produce the observed isotopic excursion.

On the other hand, there are suggestions that surges of activity occurred in the later stages of the volcanism and associated continental rifting. Intrusions of hot magma into carbon-rich sediments may have triggered the degassing of isotopically light methane in sufficient volumes to cause global warming and the observed isotope anomaly. This hypothesis is documented by the presence of extensive intrusive sill complexes and thousands of kilometer-sized hydrothermal vent complexes in sedimentary basins on the mid-Norwegian margin and west of Shetlandcite journal
author = Svensen, H.
coauthors = Planke, S., Malthe-Sørenssen, A., Jamtveit, B., Myklebust, R., Eidem, T., and Rey, S. S.
year = 2004
title = Release of methane from a volcanic basin as a mechanism for initial Eocene global warming.
journal = Nature
volume = 429
pages = 542-545
] cite journal
author = Storey, M.
coauthors = Duncan, R.A.; Swisher III, C.C.
year = 2007
title = Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum and the Opening of the Northeast Atlantic
journal = Science
volume = 316
issue = 5824
pages = 587
doi = 10.1126/science.1135274
pmid = 17463286
] . Further phases of volcanic activity could have triggered the release of more methane, and caused other early Eocene warm events such as the ETM2.

Comet impact

A briefly popular theory held that a 12c-rich comet struck the earth and initiated the warming event.cite journal
author = Kent, D.V.
coauthors = Cramer, B.S.; Lanci, L.; Wang, D.; Wright, J.D.; Van Der Voo, R.
year = 2003
title = A case for a comet impact trigger for the Paleocene/Eocene thermal maximum and carbon isotope excursion
journal = Earth and Planetary Science Letters
volume = 211
issue = 1-2
pages = 13–26
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-28

doi = 10.1016/S0012-821X(03)00188-2] Even allowing for feedback processes, this would require at least 100 Gt of extraterrestrial carbon - such a catastrophic impact should have left its mark on the globe.Unfortunately, the evidence put forwards does not stand up to scrutiny. An unusual 9 m thick clay layer supposedly formed soon after the impact, containing unusual amounts of magnetism. But it formed too slowly for these magnetic particles to be a result of the comet's impact -cite journal
author = Sluijs, A.
coauthors = Brinkhuis, H.; Schouten, S.; Bohaty, S.M.; John, C.M.; Zachos, J.C.; Reichart, G.J.; Sinninghe Damste, J.S.; Crouch, E.M.; Dickens, G.R.
year = 2007
title = Environmental precursors to rapid light carbon injection at the Palaeocene/Eocene boundary
journal = Nature
volume = 450
issue = 7173
pages = 1218–21
doi = 10.1038/nature06400
] it turns out they were created by bacteria.cite journal
author = Kopp, R.E.
coauthors = Raub, T.; Schumann, D.; Vali, H.; Smirnov, A.V.; Kirschvink, J.L.
year = 2007
title = Magnetofossil Spike During The Paleocene-eocene Thermal Maximum: Ferromagnetic Resonance, Rock Magnetic, And Electron Microscopy Evidence From The Atlantic Coastal Plain Of New Jersey
journal = Palaeoceanography
] Further, an iridium anomaly - often an indicator of extraterrestrial impact - observed in Spain is far too small to denote a comet impact.

Burning of peat

This combustion of prodigal quantities of peat was once postulated, but in order to produce the d13c excursion observed, over 90% of the Earth's biomass would have to be combusted. Since plants in fact grew more voraciously during the period of the PETM, this theory has been discounted. A comprehensive search failed to find evidence for the combustion of fossil organic matter, in the form of soot or similar particulate carbon. [cite journal | author = Moore, E| year = 2008| doi = 10.1016/j.palaeo.2008.06.010 | title = Black carbon in Paleocene-Eocene boundary sediments: A test of biomass combustion as the PETM trigger | journal = Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology ]

Orbital forcing

The presence of later (smaller) warming events of a global scale, such as the Elmo horizon (aka ETM2), has led to the hypothesis that the events repeat on a regular basis, driven by maxima in the 400,000 and 100,000 year eccentricity cycles in the Earth's orbit. The orbital increase in insolation (and thus temperature) would force the system over a threshold and unleash positive feedbacks.cite journal
author = Lourens, L.J.
coauthors = Sluijs, A.; Kroon, D.; Zachos, J.C.; Thomas, E.; Röhl, U.; Bowles, J.; Raffi, I.
year = 2005
title = Astronomical pacing of late Palaeocene to early Eocene global warming events
journal = Nature
volume = 435
issue = 7045
pages = 1083–1087
doi = 10.1038/nature03814

Methane release

None of the above causes are alone sufficient to cause the carbon isotope excursion or warming observed at the PETM. The most obvious feedback mechanism that could amplify the initial perturbation is that of clathrates. At certain temperature and pressure conditions, methane - which is being produced continually by decomposing microbes in sea bottom sediments - is stable in a complex with water, which forms ice-like cages trapping the methane in solid form. As temperature rises, so the pressure at which this clathrate configuration is stable falls - so shallow clathrates dissociate, releasing methane gas to make its way into the atmosphere. Since biogenic clathrates have a d13c signature of −60 ‰ (inorganic clathrates are the still rather large −40 ‰), relatively small masses can produce large d13c excursions. Further, methane is a potent greenhouse gas - as it is released into the atmosphere, so it causes warming, and as the ocean transports this to the bottom sediments, it destabilises more clathrates. It would take around 2,300 years for an increased temperature to diffuse warm the sea bed to a depth sufficient to cause clathrates' release - although the exact time frame is highly dependent on a number of poorly-constrained assumptions.cite journal
author = Katz, M.E.
coauthors = Cramer, B.S.; Mountain, G.S.; Katz, S.; Miller, K.G.
year = 2001
title = Uncorking the bottle: What triggered the Paleocene/Eocene thermal maximum methane release
journal = Paleoceanography
volume = 16
issue = 6
pages = 667
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-28

doi = 10.1029/2000PA000615]

In order for the clathrate hypothesis to work, the oceans must show signs of being warmer slightly before the carbon isotope excursion - because it would take some time for the methane to become mixed into the system and d13c-reduced carbon to be returned to the deep ocean sedimentary record. Until recently, the evidence suggested that the two peaks were in fact simultaneous, weakening the support for the methane theory. But recent work has managed to detect a short gap between the initial warming and the d13c excursion.cite journal
author = Thomas, D.J.
coauthors = Zachos, J.C.; Bralower, T.J.; Thomas, E.; Bohaty, S.
year = 2002
title = Warming the fuel for the fire: Evidence for the thermal dissociation of methane hydrate during the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum
journal = Geology
volume = 30
issue = 12
pages = 1067–1070
doi = 10.1130/0091-7613(2002)030
doi_brokendate = 2008-06-20
] Chemical markers of surface temperature (tex86|link) also indicate that warming occurred around 3,000 years before the carbon isotope excursion, but this does not seem to hold true for all cores. Notably, deeper (non-surface) waters do not appear to display evidence of this time gap.cite journal
author = Tripati, A.
coauthors = Elderfield, H.
year = 2005
title = Deep-Sea Temperature and Circulation Changes at the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum
journal = Science
volume = 308
issue = 5730
pages = 1894–1898
doi = 10.1126/science.1109202
pmid = 15976299

Analysis of these records reveals another interesting fact: plantktonic (floating) forams record the shift to lighter isotope values earlier than benthic (bottom dwelling) forams. The lighter (lower d13c) methanogenic carbon can only be incorporated into the forams' shells after it has been oxidised. A gradual release of the gas would allow it to be oxidised in the deep ocean, which would make benthic forams' tests lighter earlier. The fact that the planktonic forams are the first to show the signal suggests that the methane was released so rapidly that its oxidation used up all the oxygen at depth in the water column, allowing some methane to reach the atmosphere unoxidised, where atmospheric oxygen would react with it. This observation also allows us to constrain the duration of methane release to under around 10,000 years.

Ocean circulation

The large scale patterns of ocean circulation are important when considering how heat was transported through the oceans. Our understanding of these patterns is still in a preliminary stage. Models show that there are possible mechanisms to quickly transport heat to the shallow, clathrate-containing ocean shelves, given the right bathymetric profile, but the models cannot yet match the distribution of data we observe.cite journal
author = Bice, K.L.
coauthors = Marotzke, J.
year = 2002
title = Could changing ocean circulation have destabilized methane hydrate at the Paleocene/Eocene boundary
journal = Paleoceanography
volume = 17
issue = 2
pages = 1018
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-29

doi = 10.1029/2001PA000678]


The d13c record records a recovery time of around 150,000 to 30,000 years, relatively rapid compared to the residence time of carbon in the modern atmosphere (100-200 thousand years). A satisfactory explanation of this rapid recovery must incorporate a feedback system.cite journal
author = Bains, S.
coauthors = Norris, R.D.; Corfield, R.M.; Faul, K.L.
year = 2000
title = Termination of global warmth at the Palaeocene/Eocene boundary through productivity feedback
journal = Nature
volume = 407
issue = 6801
pages = 171–4
doi = 10.1038/35025035

The most likely method of recovery invokes an increase in biological productivity, transporting carbon to the deep ocean. This would be assisted by higher global temperatures and co2 levels, as well as an increased nutrient supply (which would result from higher continental weathering due to higher temperatures and rainfall; volcanics may have provided further nutrients). Evidence for higher biological productivity comes in the form of biogenic Barium. However, this proxy may instead reflect the addition of Barium dissolved in methane.cite journal|author=Dickens, Fewless, thomas, brawoler |title=Excess barite accumulation during the PETM...|journal=GSA spec|volume=369|year=2003] However, diversifications suggest that productivity increased in near-shore environments, which would have been warm and fertilised by run-off - outweighing the reduction in productivity in the deep oceans.cite journal
author = Kelly, D.C.
coauthors = Bralower, T.J.; Zachos, J.C.
year = 1998
title = Evolutionary consequences of the latest Paleocene thermal maximum for tropical planktonic foraminifera
journal = Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
volume = 141
issue = 1
pages = 139–161
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-28

doi = 10.1016/S0031-0182(98)00017-0]

ee also

*Azolla event


External links

* [] Times Online article based on QUAD-Lab work and references the laboratory directly.
* [ E. Nadim, Global Fever] at UCSC Science Notes, summarizes research on the "Initial Eocene Thermal Maximum."
* [] digital copy of the 2006 PhD thesis of Appy Sluijs (Utrecht University; "Global change during the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum")
* [ Alex Kirby, North Pole 'was once subtropical'] , BBC News, 7 September 2004.
* [ North Pole's ancient past holds clues about future global warming] ,, 31 May 2006.
* [ New findings show a slow recovery from extreme global warming episode 55 million years ago] ,, 10 June 2005.
* [ The Day the Sea Stood Still] , Tom Yulsman, Washington Post, September 9, 1998

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  • Paleocene — The Paleocene or Palaeocene, early dawn of the recent is a geologic epoch that lasted from 65.5 ± 0.3 Ma to 55.8 ± 0.2 Ma (million years ago). It is the first epoch of the Palaeogene Period in the modern Cenozoic era. As with most other older… …   Wikipedia

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  • Máximo térmico del Paleoceno-Eoceno — La gráfica muestra la evolución del clima durante los últimos sesenta y cinco millones de años. El máximo térmico del Paleoceno Eoceno está remarcado en rojo y probablemente se …   Wikipedia Español

  • climate change — Introduction  periodic modification of Earth s climate brought about as a result of changes in the atmosphere as well as interactions between the atmosphere and various other geologic, chemical, biological, and geographic factors within the Earth …   Universalium

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  • Tertiary Period — Interval of geologic time, 65–1. 8 million years ago. It constitutes the first of the two periods of the Cenozoic Era, the second being the Quaternary. The Tertiary has five subdivisions: (from oldest to youngest) the Paleocene, Eocene, Oligocene …   Universalium

  • Джинджерич, Филип — Филип Джинджерич англ. Philip D. Gingerich Страна …   Википедия

  • Philip D. Gingerich — Residencia  Estados Unidos Campo paleontología, geología, biología y …   Wikipedia Español

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