Sudden spreading of corrosive bottom water during the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum

Kaitlin Alexander, Katrin J. Meissner, Timothy J. Bralower

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, approximately 55 million years ago, was a period of rapid warming linked to a massive release of carbon to the ocean-atmosphere system. Thiswarming eventwas alsomarked by widespread dissolution of carbonates at the sea floor2. The acidification of deepwaters was generally more extensive and severe in the Atlantic and Caribbean, with more modest changes in the Southern and Pacific oceans3,5. Here we use the UVic ESCM global climate model to show that corrosive deep water spreading from the North Atlantic can explain the spatial variations in carbonate dissolution during the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. In our simulations, highly corrosive waters accumulate in the deep North Atlantic at the onset of the event. Several thousand years after an imposed atmospheric carbon release, warming of the deep ocean destabilizes the North Atlantic water column and triggers deep-water formation. This deep convection causes the corrosive bottom water to spill over an equatorial sill into the South Atlantic. The bottom water then spreads throughthe SouthernandPacific oceans, progressively gaining alkalinity. We conclude that the pattern of sediment dissolution simulated along the path taken by the corrosive water is consistent with most dissolution estimates from the sediment record.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)458-461
Number of pages4
JournalNature Geoscience
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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