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Major themes | Theme 2 | Dynamics of the PETM

Dynamics of the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (dPETM)

Leader: Mark Maslin, University College London

A substantial transient warming of the Earth’s surface occurred some 55.5 million years ago (Ma) known as the Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum (‘PETM’). Near synchronous with this is a prominent carbon isotopic excursion, interpreted as recording a massive release of carbon to the ocean and atmosphere. Although the PETM represents a potential analogue for future global change, little is currently certain about the source, quantity, or rate of carbon release, nor of the importance of an apparent reorganization in ocean circulation that took place at this time.

The QUEST dPETM project was an interdisciplinary model-data approach utilizing both fully coupled Global Circulation Models and intermediate complexity Earth system models (e.g., GENIE) to evaluate the competing hypothesis for what drove hyperthermal events such as the PETM – for example did changes in ocean circulation and/or warming drive a large-scale destabilization of methane hydrate deposits. Our results have allowed us to assess the relevance of the PETM to studies of future global change and to obtain funding to extend this highly successful project.