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Atmospheric carbon dioxide through the Eocene-Oligocene climate transition

Pearson, Paul Nicholas, Foster, Gavin L. and Wade, Bridget S. 2009. Atmospheric carbon dioxide through the Eocene-Oligocene climate transition. Nature 461 (7267) , pp. 1110-1113. 10.1038/nature08447

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Geological and geochemical evidence1, 2, 3 indicates that the Antarctic ice sheet formed during the Eocene–Oligocene transition4, 33.5–34.0 million years ago. Modelling studies5, 6 suggest that such ice-sheet formation might have been triggered when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels () fell below a critical threshold of 750 p.p.m.v., but the timing and magnitude of relative to the evolution of the ice sheet has remained unclear. Here we use the boron isotope pH proxy7, 8 on exceptionally well-preserved carbonate microfossils from a recently discovered geological section in Tanzania9, 10 to estimate before, during and after the climate transition. Our data suggest that a reduction in occurred before the main phase of ice growth, followed by a sharp recovery to pre-transition values and then a more gradual decline. During maximum ice-sheet growth, was between 450 and 1,500 p.p.m.v., with a central estimate of 760 p.p.m.v. The ice cap survived the period of recovery, although possibly with some reduction in its volume, implying (as models predict11) a nonlinear response to climate forcing during melting. Overall, our results confirm the central role of declining in the development of the Antarctic ice sheet (in broad agreement with carbon cycle modelling12) and help to constrain mechanisms and feedbacks associated with the Earth's biggest climate switch of the past 65 Myr.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Earth and Ocean Sciences
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GC Oceanography
Q Science > QE Geology
Publisher: Nature Publishing Group
ISSN: 0028-0836
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 02:09

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