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Volume 12, issue 2 | Copyright

Special issue: Climatic and biotic events of the Paleogene

Clim. Past, 12, 439-454, 2016
https://doi.org/10.5194/cp-12-439-2016
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 25 Feb 2016

Research article | 25 Feb 2016

Fossil plant stomata indicate decreasing atmospheric CO2 prior to the Eocene–Oligocene boundary

Margret Steinthorsdottir1, Amanda S. Porter2, Aidan Holohan2, Lutz Kunzmann3, Margaret Collinson4, and Jennifer C. McElwain2 Margret Steinthorsdottir et al.
  • 1Department of Geological Sciences and Bolin Centre for Climate Research, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
  • 2School of Biology and Environmental Science, Earth Institute, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Ireland
  • 3Museum of Mineralogy and Geology, Senckenberg Natural History Collections Dresden, Dresden, Germany
  • 4Department of Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey, UK

Abstract. A unique stratigraphic sequence of fossil leaves of Eotrigonobalanus furcinervis (extinct trees of the beech family, Fagaceae) from central Germany has been used to derive an atmospheric pCO2 record with multiple data points spanning the late middle to late Eocene, two sampling levels which may be earliest Oligocene, and two samples from later in the Oligocene. Using the inverse relationship between the density of stomata and pCO2, we show that pCO2 decreased continuously from the late middle to late Eocene, reaching a relatively stable low value before the end of the Eocene. Based on the subsequent records, pCO2 in parts of the Oligocene was similar to latest Eocene values. These results suggest that a decrease in pCO2 preceded the large shift in marine oxygen isotope records that characterizes the Eocene–Oligocene transition and that when a certain threshold of pCO2 change was crossed, the cumulative effects of this and other factors resulted in rapid temperature decline, ice build up on Antarctica and hence a change of climate mode.

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Our manuscript "Fossil plant stomata indicate decreasing atmospheric CO2 prior to the Eocene–Oligocene boundary" reports that ~ 40 % decrease in pCO2 preceded the large shift in marine oxygen isotope records that characterizes the Eocene–Oliogocene climate transition. The results endorse the theory that pCO2 drawdown was the main forcer of the Eocene–Oligocene climate change, and a "tipping point" was reached in the latest Eocene, triggering the plunge of the Earth System into icehouse conditions.
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