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Geology. 1997 Mar;25(3):259-62.

A blast of gas in the latest Paleocene: simulating first-order effects of massive dissociation of oceanic methane hydrate.

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Department of Geological Sciences, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 48109, USA.
U MI, Ann Arbor


Carbonate and organic matter deposited during the latest Paleocene thermal maximum is characterized by a remarkable -2.5% excursion in delta 13C that occurred over approximately 10(4) yr and returned to near initial values in an exponential pattern over approximately 2 x 10(5) yr. It has been hypothesized that this excursion signifies transfer of 1.4 to 2.8 x 10(18) g of CH4 from oceanic hydrates to the combined ocean-atmosphere inorganic carbon reservoir. A scenario with 1.12 x 10(18) g of CH4 is numerically simulated here within the framework of the present-day global carbon cycle to test the plausibility of the hypothesis. We find that (1) the delta 13C of the deep ocean, shallow ocean, and atmosphere decreases by -2.3% over 10(4) yr and returns to initial values in an exponential pattern over approximately 2 x 10(5) yr; (2) the depth of the lysocline shoals by up to 400 m over 10(4) yr, and this rise is most pronounced in one ocean region; and (3) global surface temperature increases by approximately 2 degrees C over 10(4) yr and returns to initial values over approximately 2 x 10(6) yr. The first effect is quantitatively consistent with the geologic record; the latter two effects are qualitatively consistent with observations. Thus, significant CH4 release from oceanic hydrates is a plausible explanation for observed carbon cycle perturbations during the thermal maximum. This conclusion is of broad interest because the flux of CH4 invoked during the maximum is of similar magnitude to that released to the atmosphere from present-day anthropogenic CH4 sources.

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