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Assessing environmental change associated with early Eocene hyperthermals in the Atlantic Coastal Plain, USA

August 17, 2023

Eocene transient global warming events (hyperthermals) can provide insight into a future warmer world. While much research has focused on the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), hyperthermals of a smaller magnitude can be used to characterize climatic responses over different magnitudes of forcing. This study identifies two events, namely the Eocene Thermal Maximum 2 (ETM2 and H2), in shallow marine sediments of the Eocene-aged Salisbury Embayment of Maryland, based on magnetostratigraphy, calcareous nannofossil, and dinocyst biostratigraphy, as well as the recognition of negative stable carbon isotope excursions (CIEs) in biogenic calcite. We assess local environmental change in the Salisbury Embayment, utilizing clay mineralogy, marine palynology, δ18O of biogenic calcite, and biomarker paleothermometry (TEX86). Paleotemperature proxies show broad agreement between surface water and bottom water temperature changes. However, the timing of the warming does not correspond to the CIE of the ETM2 as expected from other records, and the highest values are observed during H2, suggesting factors in addition to pCO2 forcing have influenced temperature changes in the region. The ETM2 interval exhibits a shift in clay mineralogy from smectite-dominated facies to illite-rich facies, suggesting hydroclimatic changes but with a rather dampened weathering response relative to that of the PETM in the same region. Organic walled dinoflagellate cyst assemblages show large fluctuations throughout the studied section, none of which seem systematically related to CIE warming. These observations are contrary to the typical tight correspondence between climate change and assemblages across the PETM, regionally and globally, and ETM2 in the Arctic Ocean. The data do indicate very warm and (seasonally) stratified conditions, likely salinity-driven, across H2. The absence of evidence for strong perturbations in local hydrology and nutrient supply during ETM2 and H2, compared to the PETM, is consistent with the less extreme forcing and the warmer pre-event baseline, as well as the non-linear response in hydroclimates to greenhouse forcing.

Publication Year 2023
Title Assessing environmental change associated with early Eocene hyperthermals in the Atlantic Coastal Plain, USA
DOI 10.5194/cp-19-1677-2023
Authors William Rush, Jean Self-Trail, Yan Zhan, Appy Sluijs, Henk Brinkhuis, James Zachos, James G. Ogg, Marci M. Robinson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Climate of the Past
Index ID 70247841
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Florence Bascom Geoscience Center