Spatial and Temporal Patterns in Petrogenic Organic Carbon Mobilization During the Paleocene‐Eocene Thermal Maximum

Hollingsworth, E. H.; Elling, F. J.; Badger, M. P. S.; Pancost, R. D.; Dickson, A. J.; Rees‐Owen, R. L.; Papadomanolaki, N. M.; Pearson, A.; Sluijs, A.; Freeman, K. H.; Baczynski, A. A.; Foster, G. L.; Whiteside, J. H. and Inglis, G. N. (2024). Spatial and Temporal Patterns in Petrogenic Organic Carbon Mobilization During the Paleocene‐Eocene Thermal Maximum. Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology, 39(2), article no. e2023PA004773.



The Paleocene‐Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) was a transient global warming event and is recognized in the geologic record by a prolonged negative carbon isotope excursion (CIE). The onset of the CIE was due to a rapid influx of 13C‐depleted carbon into the ocean‐atmosphere system. However, the mechanisms required to sustain the negative CIE remains unclear. Enhanced mobilization and oxidation of petrogenic organic carbon (OCpetro) has been invoked to explain elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations after the onset of the CIE. However, existing evidence is limited to the mid‐latitudes and subtropics. Here, we determine whether: (a) enhanced mobilization and subsequent burial of OCpetro in marine sediments was a global phenomenon; and (b) whether it occurred throughout the PETM. To achieve this, we utilize a lipid biomarker approach to trace and quantify OCpetro burial in a global compilation of PETM‐aged shallow marine sites (n = 7, including five new sites). Our results confirm that OCpetro mass accumulation rates (MARs) increased within the subtropics and mid‐latitudes during the PETM, consistent with evidence of higher physical erosion rates and intense episodic rainfall events. High‐latitude sites do not exhibit drastic changes in the source of organic carbon during the PETM and OCpetro MARs increase slightly or remain stable, perhaps due a more stable hydrological regime. Crucially, we also demonstrate that OCpetro MARs remained elevated during the recovery phase of the PETM. Although OCpetro oxidation was likely an important positive feedback mechanism throughout the PETM, we show that this feedback was both spatially and temporally variable.

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