Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


UNH Research Brings New Understanding to Past Global Warming Events

A series of global warming events called hyperthermals that occurred more than 50 million years ago had a similar origin to a much larger hyperthermal of the period, the Pelaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), new research has found.

The findings, published in Nature Geoscience online on April 1, 2012, represent a breakthrough in understanding the major “burp” of carbon, equivalent to burning the entire reservoir of fossil fuels on Earth, that occurred during the PETM.

“As geologists, it unnerves us that we don’t know where this huge amount of carbon released in the PETM comes from,” says Will Clyde, associate professor of Earth sciences at the University of New Hampshire and a co-author on the paper. “This is the first breakthrough we’ve had in a long time. It gives us a new understanding of the PETM.” The work confirms that the PETM was not a unique event – the result, perhaps, of a meteorite strike – but a natural part of the Earth’s carbon cycle.

Working in the Bighorn Basin region of Wyoming, a 100-mile-wide area with a semi-arid climate and stratified rocks that make it ideal for studying the PETM, Clyde and lead author Hemmo Abels of Utrecht University in the Netherlands found the first evidence of the smaller hyperthermal events on land. Previously, the only evidence of such events were from marine records.

“By finding these smaller hyperthermal events in continental records, it secures their status as global events, not just an ocean process. It means they are atmospheric events,” Clyde says.

Their findings confirm that, like the smaller hyperthermals of the era that released carbon into the atmosphere, the release of carbon in the PETM had a similar origin. In addition, the warming-to-carbon release of the PETM and the other hyperthermals are similarly scaled, which the authors interpret as an indication of a similar mechanism of carbon release during all hyperthermals, including the PETM.

“It points toward the fact that we’re dealing with the same source of carbon,” Clyde says.

Working in two areas of the Bighorn Basin just east of Yellowstone National Park – Gilmore Hill and Upper Deer Creek – Clyde and Abels sampled rock and soil to measure carbon isotope records. They then compared these continental recordings of carbon release to equivalent marine records already in existence.

During the PETM, temperatures rose between five and seven degrees Celsius in approximately 10,000 years -- “a geological instant,” Clyde calls it. This rise in temperature coincided exactly with a massive global change in mammals, as land bridges opened up connecting the continents. Prior to the PETM, North America had no primates, ancient horses, or split-hoofed mammals like deer or cows.

Scientists look to the PETM for clues about the current warming of the Earth, although Clyde cautions that “the Earth 50 million years ago was very different than it is today, so it’s not a perfect analog.” While scientists still don’t fully understand the causes of these hyperthermal events, “they seem to be triggered by warming,” Clyde says. It’s possible, he says, that less dramatic warming events destabilized these large amounts of carbon, releasing them into the atmosphere where they, in turn, warmed the Earth even more.

“This work indicates that there is some part of the carbon cycle that we don’t understand, and it could accentuate global warming,” Clyde says.

The article, “Terrestrial carbon isotope excursions and biotic change during Palaeogene hyperthermals,” was published online in Nature Geoscience ( In addition to Clyde and Abels, co-authors were Philip Gingerich from the University of Michigan, Frederik Hilgen and Lucas Lourens from Utrecht University, Henry Fricke from Colorado College, and Gabriel Bowen from Purdue University. Clyde received funding for this work from the National Science Foundation.

Read more about Clyde’s research at Bighorn Basin here:

The University of New Hampshire, founded in 1866, is a world-class public research university with the feel of a New England liberal arts college. A land, sea, and space-grant university, UNH is the state's flagship public institution, enrolling 12,200 undergraduate and 2,300 graduate students.

Photographs available to download:
Caption: Will Clyde, associate professor of Earth sciences at the University of New Hampshire, holds a sediment core from the Gilmore Hill area in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming where he and other coauthors discovered geological records of global warming events that occurred more than 50 million years ago.

Credit: Kate Freeman
Caption: The Bighorn Basin area of Wyoming, University of New Hampshire professor Will Clyde and colleagues found new evidence leading to a greater understanding of the Pelaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), a major warming that occurred more than 50 million years ago. Credit: Thomas Westerhold
Caption: These geological deposits make the Bighorn Basin area of Wyoming ideal for studying the PETM. Credit: Aaron Diefendorf

Beth Potier | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Receding glaciers in Bolivia leave communities at risk
20.10.2016 | European Geosciences Union

nachricht UM researchers study vast carbon residue of ocean life
19.10.2016 | University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>