//
you're reading...

Atmospheric Chemistry

Does history repeat itself?: Investigating the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum

References: Haynes, Laura L..; Hönisch, Bärbel (2020). The seawater carbon inventory at the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. U S A. 117, 24088-24095.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2003197117

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Picture this: 55.6 million years ago (otherwise written as 55.6 Mya). Earth’s geology and atmosphere was rapidly changing: volcanoes were erupting more often, global temperatures rose, oceans became more acidic, and large amounts of carbon-based molecules were released into the ocean. Furthermore, the diversity of species (otherwise known as biodiversity) fluctuated vigorously. This time period was known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), as it was named after the spike in temperature on Earth. It must have been extremely stressful to live in these conditions, right? Well, we already know. For scientists, this time period has been studied to understand our world today. It is postulated that the PETM can mirror our current climate crisis, which really puts everything into perspective. So, if we want to understand today, we have to look past yesterday.

A team of scientists at Columbia University decided to undertake this task and investigate the ocean during the PETM. If you are reading this article, you have probably heard of the concept of Ocean Acidification. Well, the ocean also became more acidic during the PETM too, so the team wanted to see how we compare. The group decided to tackle this issue head on by calculating the amount of carbon molecules entering the ocean (and, by proxy, the ocean’s acidity) to refine our understanding of the PETM. What they found was very interesting!

What did they find? How much carbon entered the water?

Magma cooling when it reaches the Earth’s surface. Image Credit: NSF and NOAA

In totality, the group calculated that 14,900 petagrams or 32,848,877,065,547,000 pounds of carbon entered the ocean during the PETM! Interestingly, due to all of the geological activity (like volcanoes erupting) the land and subterranean sources of carbon on Earth lost about 10% of its amount to the ocean. Furthermore, their calculations tell us that a significant amount of the carbon released into the ocean came from magma. In addition, the release of thermogenic methane, which is a carbon-based molecule produced by very high heats and pressures under the ocean floor, was also a significantly high contributor to the amount of carbon in the ocean.

For more specific details, the amount of carbon in the ocean increased from ~21 parts per million (ppm) to 33ppm. For comparison, current ocean levels have about 25ppm of carbon. All of these findings simultaneously show the magnitude of climate change for both the PETM and now.

How did they do it?

An image of a planktic foraminifera. Image Credit: Hannes Grobe/AWI

Since the PETM was 55.6Mya, we cannot simply measure the conditions of the water. To overcome this issue, the group targeted organisms called planktic foraminifera which are microscopic plankton with hard shells that can be preserved as fossils. Their shells contain Boron and Calcium atoms, and their amounts in the shell are almost directly related to the acidity of the water. So, the group could mathematically relate measurements of the amount of Boron and Calcium in these shells to the acidity of the water, and therefore find the amount of dissolved carbon in the ocean. For clarity’s sake, the group studied the amount of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC). These molecules include carbon dioxide, calcium carbonate, and others which all have an effect on the acidity of the water.

Why does it matter?

This study both informs our understanding of the PETM and enlightens us of our current climate crisis. By refining previous scientific work, we can better discern how our Earth has formed the way it has. The group indicates that currently modern society releases carbon at rates MUCH faster than what they calculated during the PETM. Not only does this inform us of the massive scale of our current climate issue, but it paints a scary story of what happens to species when this carbon release goes uncontrolled. This study matters because, to answer the titular question, yes history does repeat itself and we should learn from yesterday to create today.

Discussion

No comments yet.

Post a Comment

Instagram

  • by oceanbites 4 days ago
    Being on a research cruise is a unique experience with the open water, 12-hour working shifts, and close quarters, but there are some familiar practices too. Here Diana is filtering seawater to gather chlorophyll for analysis, the same process on
  • by oceanbites 1 month ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #oceanbites  we are featuring Hannah Collins  @hannahh_irene  Hannah works with marine suspension feeding bivalves and microplastics, investigating whether ingesting microplastics causes changes to the gut microbial community or gut tissues. She hopes to keep working
  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    Leveling up - did you know that crabs have a larval phase? These are both porcelain crabs, but the one on the right is the earlier stage. It’s massive spine makes it both difficult to eat and quite conspicuous in
  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Cierra Braga. Cierra works ultraviolet c (UVC) to discover how this light can be used to combat biofouling, or the growth of living things, on the hulls of ships. Here, you
  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Elena Gadoutsis  @haysailor  These photos feature her “favorite marine research so far: From surveying tropical coral reefs, photographing dolphins and whales, and growing my own algae to expose it to different
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on Oceanbites we are featuring Eliza Oldach. According to Ellie, “I study coastal communities, and try to understand the policies and decisions and interactions and adaptations that communities use to navigate an ever-changing world. Most of
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Jiwoon Park with a little photographic help from Ryan Tabata at the University of Hawaii. When asked about her research, Jiwoon wrote “Just like we need vitamins and minerals to stay
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring  @riley_henning  According to Riley, ”I am interested in studying small things that make a big impact in the ocean. Right now for my master's research at the University of San Diego,
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Gabby Stedman. Gabby is interested in interested in understanding how many species of small-bodied animals there are in the deep-sea and where they live so we can better protect them from
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Shawn Wang! Shawn is “an oceanographer that studies ocean conditions of the past. I use everything from microfossils to complex computer models to understand how climate has changed in the past
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    Today we are highlighting some of our awesome new authors for  #WriterWednesday  Today we have Daniel Speer! He says, “I am driven to investigate the interface of biology, chemistry, and physics, asking questions about how organisms or biological systems respond
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    Here at Oceanbites we love long-term datasets. So much happens in the ocean that sometimes it can be hard to tell if a trend is a part of a natural cycle or actually an anomaly, but as we gather more
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    Have you ever seen a lobster molt? Because lobsters have exoskeletons, every time they grow they have to climb out of their old shell, leaving them soft and vulnerable for a few days until their new shell hardens. Young, small
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    A lot of zooplankton are translucent, making it much easier to hide from predators. This juvenile mantis shrimp was almost impossible to spot floating in the water, but under a dissecting scope it’s features really come into view. See the
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    This is a clump of Dead Man’s Fingers, scientific name Codium fragile. It’s native to the Pacific Ocean and is invasive where I found it on the east coast of the US. It’s a bit velvety, and the coolest thing
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    You’ve probably heard of jellyfish, but have you heard of salps? These gelatinous sea creatures band together to form long chains, but they can also fall apart and will wash up onshore like tiny gemstones that squish. Have you seen
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    Check out what’s happening on a cool summer research cruise! On the  #neslter  summer transect cruise, we deployed a tow sled called the In Situ Icthyoplankton Imaging System. This can take pictures of gelatinous zooplankton (like jellyfish) that would be
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Did you know horseshoe crabs have more than just two eyes? In these juveniles you can see another set in the middle of the shell. Check out our website to learn about some awesome horseshoe crab research.  #oceanbites   #plankton   #horseshoecrabs 
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Feeling a bit flattened by the week? So are these summer flounder larvae. Fun fact: flounder larvae start out with their eyes set like normal fish, but as they grow one of their eyes migrates to meet the other and
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Have you seen a remote working setup like this? This is a photo from one of our Oceanbites team members Anne Hartwell. “A view from inside the control can of an underwater robot we used to explore the deep parts
WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com