Newly published results from a high-resolution study of sediments collected on Spitsbergen represent a significant contribution to this endeavour. The study was led by Dr Ian Harding and Prof John Marshall of the University of Southampton’s School of Ocean and Earth Science (SOES), based at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.
Around 56 million years ago there was a period of global warming called the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), during which global sea surface temperatures increased by approximately 5°C.
The warming of the oceans led to profound ecological changes, including the widespread extinction of many types of foraminifera, tiny single-celled organisms with distinctive shells. Plankton that had previously only prospered in tropical and subtropical waters migrated to higher latitudes. Similar changes occurred on the land, with many animals and plants extending their distributions towards the poles.
“Although environmental changes associated with the PETM at low- to mid-latitude settings and high southern latitudes are well documented, we know less about these changes at high northern latitudes,” explained Dr Harding.
Information about the Arctic environment during the PETM has come predominantly from sediment cores drilled from under the pack ice on the Lomonosov Ridge (~ 88°N) by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP Site 302-4A). However, these cores do not span the entire PETM and therefore do not provide a complete picture.
“Information from other Arctic sites is needed for a better understanding of PETM environmental conditions, such data can then in turn be used in computer models which will improve our understanding not only of past climatic conditions but also enhance our ability to predict future perturbations,” said Dr Harding.
To help fill this knowledge gap, Dr Harding’s team turned to a site (~78 °N) on Spitsbergen in the high Arctic. Here, 2.5-kilometre-thick sediments span the critical period. During the PETM, the site would have been at around 75 °N, the difference in position being due to the slow movement of tectonic plates over millions of years.
Through analyses of plankton and the chemical and magnetic characteristics of the sediments, they were unambiguously able to identify a 15-metre succession of exposed sediment representing the approximately 170 thousand year PETM event.
At the base of the segment they found the preserved remains of the cyst-forming dinoflagellate Apectodinium augustum, a planktonic species diagnostic of the PETM across the globe. In fact, the species was already present in Spitsbergen before the shift in carbon isotope composition formally marking the onset of the PETM, suggesting that environment change was by then already well underway.
Along with data from other sites, their Arctic evidence suggests not only that sea level began to rise well before the formal onset of the PETM, but also that it peaked about 13,000 years into the period. At the same time, increased surface-water run-off from the land dampened water-column mixing and led to stratification, with an upper freshened layer that overlay denser, more saline seawater beneath.
By carefully comparing their results with those from IODP Site 302-4A to the north, they found evidence for regional differences in the environmental manifestations of the PETM in high northern latitudes. For example, the evidence from the IODP site suggests that the sunlit surface layer of the ocean was often depleted of oxygen, the results from Spitsbergen suggest that oxygen depletion was largely restricted to the bottom waters and sediments. In addition, they found that pollen from flowering plants was scarce, unlike at the IODP site, suggesting that conditions around the Spitsbergen Central Basin may not have been conducive to the growth of flowering plants during the PETM.
“Because this geologically short-lived event is represented by such an expanded section at Spitsbergen by comparison to other deep water sites, this locality has provided us with opportunities for further high-resolution studies of the PETM, which we are currently preparing for publication,” concluded Dr Harding.
The researchers are Ian Harding, Adam Charles , John Marshall, Heiko Pälike, Paul Wilson, Edward Jarvis, Robert Thorne, Emily Morris, Rebecca Moremon, Richard Pearce and Shir Akbari of SOES, and Andrew Roberts of the Australian National University, Canberra.
Preliminary field work was funded by The Millennium Atlas Company Limited, and a second expedition with other members of the palaeo-Arctic Climates and Environments (pACE) group was funded by the Worldwide Universities Network.Publication:
Dr. Rory Howlett | EurekAlert!
Predicting unpredictability: Information theory offers new way to read ice cores
07.12.2016 | Santa Fe Institute
Sea ice hit record lows in November
07.12.2016 | University of Colorado at Boulder
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
08.12.2016 | Life Sciences
08.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
08.12.2016 | Materials Sciences