Volcanic Release of Buried Greenhouse Gases

Science  27 Apr 2007:
Vol. 316, Issue 5824, pp. 511
DOI: 10.1126/science.316.5824.511h

The Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum (PETM) about 55 million years ago was marked by a rapid emission of greenhouse gases (either CO2 or methane) during a period of a few thousand years that increased global temperatures by 5° to 10°C. However, the trigger for this sudden event has been uncertain. Storey et al. (p. 587; see the news story by Kerr) date a volcanic layer that overlies the marine sections marking the PETM and a volcanic ash at the top of a massive volcanic sequence in Greenland and Europe that likely erupted within about 300,000 years, marking the beginning of the opening of the Northern Atlantic Ocean. The dates are identical within error, implying that timing of the PETM overlaps that of the volcanic sequence. Massive intrusion of basalt into carbonaceous sediments may have released methane or CO2 to the atmosphere, perhaps explaining at least some of the causes of the PETM.

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