Changes in benthic ecosystems and ocean circulation in the Southeast Atlantic across Eocene Thermal Maximum 2

Eocene Thermal Maximum 2 (ETM2) occurred ~1.8 Myr after the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) and, like the PETM, was characterized by a negative carbon isotope excursion and warming. We combined benthic foraminiferal and sedimentological records for Southeast Atlantic Sites 1263 (1500 m paleodepth) and 1262 (3600 m paleodepth) to show that benthic foraminiferal diversity and accumulation rates declined more precipitously and severely at the shallower site during peak ETM2. As the sites are in close proximity, differences in surface productivity cannot have caused this differential effect. Instead, we infer that changes in ocean circulation across ETM2 may have produced more pronounced warming at intermediate depths (Site 1263). The effects of warming include increased metabolic rates, a decrease in effective food supply and increased deoxygenation, thus potentially explaining the more severe benthic impacts at Site 1263. In response, bioturbation may have decreased more at Site 1263 than at Site 1262, differentially affecting bulk carbonate records. We use a sediment-enabled Earth system model to test whether a reduction in bioturbation and/or the likely reduced carbonate saturation of more poorly ventilated waters can explain the more extreme excursion in bulk δ13C and sharper transition in wt % CaCO3 at Site 1263. We find that both enhanced acidification and reduced bioturbation during the ETM2 peak are needed to account for the observed features. Our combined ecological and modeling analysis illustrates the potential role of ocean circulation changes in amplifying local environmental changes and driving temporary, but drastic, loss of benthic biodiversity and abundance.

Jennions S. M., Thomas E., Schmidt D. N., Lunt D. & Ridgwell A., 2015. Changes in benthic ecosystems and ocean circulation in the Southeast Atlantic across Eocene Thermal Maximum 2. Paleoceanography 30:1059–1077. Article.


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