Abstract

The late Paleocene thermal maximum (LPTM) is associated with a brief, but intense, interval of global warming and a massive perturbation of the global carbon cycle. We have developed a new orbital chronology for Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Site 690 (Weddell Sea, Southern Ocean) by using spectral analysis of high-resolution geochemical records. The LPTM interval spans 11 precessional cycles yielding a duration of 210 to 220 k.y. The δ13C anomaly associated with the LPTM has a magnitude of about −2.5‰ to −3‰; we show that about −2‰ of the excursion occurs within two steps that each were less than 1000 yr in duration. The remainder developed through a series of steps over ∼52 k.y. The timing of these steps is consistent with a series of nearly catastrophic releases of methane from gas hydrates, punctuated by intervals of relative equilibria between hydrate dissociation and carbon burial. Further, we are able to correlate the records between ODP Sites 690 and 1051 (western North Atlantic) on the scale of 21 k.y. cycles, which demonstrates that the details of the δ13C excursion are recognizable between distant sites. Comparison of cycle records at Sites 690 and 1051 suggests that sediment representing the interval ∼30 k.y. just prior to and at the onset of the LPTM are missing in the latter location. This unconformity probably resulted from slope failure accompanying methane hydrate dissociation within 10 k.y. of the start of the LPTM.

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