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Rapid Acidification of the Ocean During the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum

Science  10 Jun 2005:
Vol. 308, Issue 5728, pp. 1611-1615
DOI: 10.1126/science.1109004

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Abstract

The Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum (PETM) has been attributed to the rapid release of ∼2000 × 109 metric tons of carbon in the form of methane. In theory, oxidation and ocean absorption of this carbon should have lowered deep-sea pH, thereby triggering a rapid (<10,000-year) shoaling of the calcite compensation depth (CCD), followed by gradual recovery. Here we present geochemical data from five new South Atlantic deep-sea sections that constrain the timing and extent of massive sea-floor carbonate dissolution coincident with the PETM. The sections, from between 2.7 and 4.8 kilometers water depth, are marked by a prominent clay layer, the character of which indicates that the CCD shoaled rapidly (<10,000 years) by more than 2 kilometers and recovered gradually (>100,000 years). These findings indicate that a large mass of carbon (»2000 × 109 metric tons of carbon) dissolved in the ocean at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary and that permanent sequestration of this carbon occurred through silicate weathering feedback.

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