Palaeogeography Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) biomarkers aridity hydrogen isotope kaolinite
Luke Handley, Aoife O'Halloran, Paul N. Pearson, Elizabeth Hawkins, Christopher J. Nicholas, Stefan Schouten, Ian K. McMillan, Richard D. Pancost, Changes in the hydrological cycle in tropical East Africa during the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, Volumes 329–330, 15 April 2012, Pages 10-21
The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), at ca. 55.8 Ma, is one of the most studied instances of past greenhouse gas-induced global warming. As such, it provides a rich opportunity to examine the impact of such global change on local climates. The effect of increased continental and sea surface temperatures on local precipitation and humidity during the PETM remain poorly constrained and studies reveal complex, regional differences; whilst some localities appear to experience a net increase in humidity, others exhibit the opposite. Crucially, there are few records of hydrological change from tropical regions. Recent onshore drilling expeditions in Tanzania have yielded expanded sedimentary sections, deposited in a marine environment, that span much of the Late Cretaceous and Paleogene and show exceptionally good preservation of both calcareous microfossils and organic matter. The PETM interval has previously been constrained by both biostratigraphy and carbon isotopic records and spans ca. 7 m of section. Lipid distributions, including various terrestrial, marine and bacterial biomarkers and their hydrogen isotopic compositions, as well as mineralogy, were used to examine East African vegetation and hydrological responses to the global change occurring at the PETM. Although total organic carbon contents decrease, the concentrations of both higher plant (n-alkanes, n-alkanoic acids) and soil bacterial (glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers) biomarkers increase dramatically at the onset of the PETM negative carbon isotope excursion (CIE), suggesting an increased discharge of fluvial sedimentary organic matter. Similarly, mineralogical indicators of terrestrial input – including Ti/Al and Si/Al ratios, quartz contents and, notably, the proportion of kaolinite – also increase at the onset of the CIE. However, higher plant leaf wax n-alkanes (C27, C29 and C31) become more deuterium-enriched throughout the same interval, suggesting a more arid and/or hotter, rather than a more humid, environment. This evidence collectively suggests an East African early PETM climate characterised by overall hot and arid conditions punctuated by intense, perhaps seasonal, precipitation events. These data match observations from other locations at mid-latitudes, suggesting that the humid climate often suggested for the PETM was not globally widespread.
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