Hydrographic and ecologic implications of foraminiferal stable isotopic response across the U.S. mid-Atlantic continental shelf during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum

We present new δ13C and δ18O records of surface (Morozovella and Acarinina) and thermocline dwelling (Subbotina) planktonic foraminifera and benthic foraminifera (Gavelinella, Cibicidoides, and Anomalinoides) during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) from Millville, New Jersey, and compare them with three other sites located along a paleoshelf transect from the U.S. mid-Atlantic coastal plain. Our analyses show different isotopic responses during the PETM in surface versus thermocline and benthic species. Whereas all taxa record a 3.6–4.0‰ δ13C decrease associated with the carbon isotope excursion, thermocline dwellers and benthic foraminifera show larger δ18O decreases compared to surface dwellers. We consider two scenarios that can explain the observed isotopic records: (1) a change in the water column structure and (2) a change in habitat or calcification season of the surface dwellers due to environmental stress (e.g., warming, ocean acidification, surface freshening, and/or eutrophication). In the first scenario, persistent warming during the PETM would have propagated heat into deeper layers and created a more homogenous water column with a thicker warm mixed layer and deeper, more gradual thermocline. We attribute the hydrographic change to decreased meridional thermal gradients, consistent with models that predict polar amplification. The second scenario assumes that environmental change was greater in the mixed layer forcing surface dwellers to descend into thermocline waters as a refuge or restrict their calcification to the colder seasons. Although both scenarios are plausible, similar δ13C responses recorded in surface, thermocline, and benthic foraminifera challenge mixed layer taxa migration.

Makarova M., Wright J. D., Miller K. G., Babila T. L., Rosenthal Y. & Park J. I., 2017. Hydrographic and ecologic implications of foraminiferal stable isotopic response across the U.S. mid-Atlantic continental shelf during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. Paleoceanography 32:56–73. Article (subscription required).

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