The findings were reported in this week’s edition of Science.
The study is important, experts say, because it documents the Earth’s response to the release of large amounts of greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide and methane – into the atmosphere, and definitively links a major volcanic event with a period of global warming.
"There has been evidence in the marine record of this period of global warming, and evidence in the geologic record of the eruptions at roughly the same time, but until now there has been no direct link between the two," said Robert A. Duncan, a professor in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University and one of the authors of the study.
Other authors are Michael Storey, from Roskilde University in Denmark, and Carl C. Swisher, from Rutgers University.
The Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum, or PETM, was a period of intense warming that lasted roughly 220,000 years. In addition to the warming of sea surface waters, this event – characterized by scientists as a "planetary emergency" – also greatly increased the acidification of the world’s oceans and led to the extinction of numerous deep-sea species.
Warming periods in Earth’s history are of interest as analogs to today’s climate change, Duncan said.
The international science team was able to link the PETM with the breakup of Greenland from northern Europe through analyzing the ash layers deposited toward the end of the peak of the volcanic eruptions. Using chemical fingerprints and identical ages, they were able to positively match ash layers in east Greenland with those in marine sediments in the Atlantic Ocean.
"We think the first volcanic eruptions began about 61 million years ago and then it took another 5 million years for the mantle to weaken, the continent to thin and the molten material to rise to the surface," Duncan said. "It was like lifting a lid. The plate came apart and gave birth to the North Atlantic Ocean."
The link from the volcanism to the warming period came through correlations with the marine fossil record. Dramatic changes in the carbon-isotopic composition of the ocean, corroded plankton shells, and the extinction of some bottom-dwelling organisms characterize the PETM. This interval occurred about 300,000 years before the ash layer, at the peak of volcanic activity in east Greenland.
The scientists speculate that massive release of greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide and methane – from the "out-gassing" of the lava flows and heating of organic-rich sediments in basins along the east Greenland margin were responsible for the global warming and changes in ocean chemistry.
The breakthrough came from being able to find a marker – the ash eruption – that was distributed all over the North Atlantic, and showed up in the marine record as well, Duncan said.
The volcanic activity that took place in Greenland 55 to 61 million years ago brought up some 10 million cubic kilometers of magma from below the Earth’s surface. These lava flows can be plainly seen today in Greenland, western Scotland and the Faeroe Islands, where they cooled, leaving a layered sequence of lava flows as deep as six kilometers in some places. Duncan said the eruptions are similar in scale with the well-known Deccan Flood Basalts in India.
"They are also about 40 times as big as the Columbia River basalts in Oregon and Washington," he said.
The Columbia River basalts likely had few global impacts, but the Deccan Flood Basalts, the Siberian Traps, and the Parana Flood Basalts in South America all coincide with periods of global warming or changes in the ocean chemistry, Duncan pointed out. No conclusive links have been established, however, he added.
"Similarly large submarine volcanic events correlate with major marine anoxic events – periods of no oxygen in the deep-ocean water – which we think are triggered by high surface productivity of plankton that have responded to nutrients released into the ocean by hydrothermal activity," Duncan said.
Bob Duncan | EurekAlert!
GPM sees deadly tornadic storms moving through US Southeast
01.12.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Cyclic change within magma reservoirs significantly affects the explosivity of volcanic eruptions
30.11.2016 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
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,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy