Capturing the global signature of surface ocean acidification during the Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum

Geologically abrupt carbon perturbations such as the Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM, approx. 56 Ma) are the closest geological points of comparison to current anthropogenic carbon emissions. Associated with the rapid carbon release during this event are profound environmental changes in the oceans including warming, deoxygenation and acidification. To evaluate the global extent of surface ocean acidification during the PETM, we present a compilation of new and published surface ocean carbonate chemistry and pH reconstructions from various palaeoceanographic settings. We use boron to calcium ratios (B/Ca) and boron isotopes (δ11B) in surface- and thermocline-dwelling planktonic foraminifera to reconstruct ocean carbonate chemistry and pH. Our records exhibit a B/Ca reduction of 30–40% and a δ11B decline of 1.0–1.2‰ coeval with the carbon isotope excursion. The tight coupling between boron proxies and carbon isotope records is consistent with the interpretation that oceanic absorption of the carbon released at the onset of the PETM resulted in widespread surface ocean acidification. The remarkable similarity among records from different ocean regions suggests that the degree of ocean carbonate change was globally near uniform. We attribute the global extent of surface ocean acidification to elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide levels during the main phase of the PETM.

Babila T. L., Penman D. E., Hönisch B., Kelly D. C., Bralower T. J., Rosenthal Y. & Zachos J. C., 2018. Capturing the global signature of surface ocean acidification during the Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 376 (2130): 20170072. doi: 10.1098/rsta.2017.0072. Article (subscription required).

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