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Paleogene Earth perturbations in the US Atlantic Coastal Plain (PEP-US): Coring transects of hyperthermals to understand past carbon injections and ecosystem responses

April 2, 2024

The release of over 4500 Gt (gigatonnes) of carbon at the Paleocene–Eocene boundary provides the closest geological analog to modern anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The cause(s) of and responses to the resulting Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) and attendant carbon isotopic excursion (CIE) remain enigmatic and intriguing despite over 30 years of intense study. CIE records from the deep sea are generally thin due to its short duration and slow sedimentation rates, and they are truncated due to corrosive bottom waters dissolving carbonate sediments. In contrast, PETM coastal plain sections along the US mid-Atlantic margin are thick, generally having an expanded record of the CIE. Drilling here presents an opportunity to study the PETM onset to a level of detail that could transform our understanding of this important event. Previous drilling in this region provided important insights, but existing cores are either depleted or contain stratigraphic gaps. New core material is needed for well-resolved marine climate records. To plan new drilling, members of the international scientific community attended a multi-staged, hybrid scientific drilling workshop in 2022 designed to maximize not only scientifically and demographically diverse participation but also to protect participants' health and safety during the global pandemic and to reduce our carbon footprint. The resulting plan identified 10 sites for drill holes that would penetrate the Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) boundary, targeting the pre-onset excursion (POE), the CIE onset, the rapidly deposited Marlboro Clay that records a very thick CIE body, and other Eocene hyperthermals. The workshop participants developed several primary scientific objectives related to investigating the nature and the cause(s) of the CIE onset as well as the biotic effects of the PETM on the paleoshelf. Additional objectives focus on the evidence for widespread wildfires and changes in the hydrological cycle, shelf morphology, and sea level during the PETM as well as the desire to study both underlying K–Pg sediments and overlying post-Eocene records of extreme hyperthermal climate events. All objectives address our overarching research question: what was the Earth system response to a rapid carbon cycle perturbation?

Publication Year 2024
Title Paleogene Earth perturbations in the US Atlantic Coastal Plain (PEP-US): Coring transects of hyperthermals to understand past carbon injections and ecosystem responses
DOI 10.5194/sd-33-47-2024
Authors Marci M. Robinson, Kenneth Miller, Tali Babila, Tim J Bralower, Jim Browning, Marlow Cramwinckel, Monika Doubrawa, Gavin L Foster, Megan Fung, Sean D. Kinney, Maria Makarova, Pete McLaughlin, Paul Pearson, Ursula Rohl, Morgan Schaller, Jean Self-Trail, Appy Sluijs, Thomas Westerhold, James R. Wright, James Zachos
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Scientific Drilling
Index ID 70252682
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Eastern Geology and Paleoclimate Science Center; Florence Bascom Geoscience Center