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Nature. 2005 Jun 23;435(7045):1083-7. Epub 2005 Jun 8.

Astronomical pacing of late Palaeocene to early Eocene global warming events.

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  • 1Faculty of Geosciences, Department of Earth Sciences, and.


At the boundary between the Palaeocene and Eocene epochs, about 55 million years ago, the Earth experienced a strong global warming event, the Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum. The leading hypothesis to explain the extreme greenhouse conditions prevalent during this period is the dissociation of 1,400 to 2,800 gigatonnes of methane from ocean clathrates, resulting in a large negative carbon isotope excursion and severe carbonate dissolution in marine sediments. Possible triggering mechanisms for this event include crossing a threshold temperature as the Earth warmed gradually, comet impact, explosive volcanism or ocean current reorganization and erosion at continental slopes, whereas orbital forcing has been excluded. Here we report a distinct carbonate-poor red clay layer in deep-sea cores from Walvis ridge, which we term the Elmo horizon. Using orbital tuning, we estimate deposition of the Elmo horizon at about 2 million years after the Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum. The Elmo horizon has similar geochemical and biotic characteristics as the Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum, but of smaller magnitude. It is coincident with carbon isotope depletion events in other ocean basins, suggesting that it represents a second global thermal maximum. We show that both events correspond to maxima in the approximately 405-kyr and approximately 100-kyr eccentricity cycles that post-date prolonged minima in the 2.25-Myr eccentricity cycle, implying that they are indeed astronomically paced.

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