Abstract

The early Eocene (ca. 55–48 Ma) encompasses one of the warmest intervals of the past 65 m.y. and is characterized by an unusually low equator-to-pole thermal gradient. Recent proxy studies suggest temperatures well in excess of 30 °C even at high latitudes, but conflicting interpretations derived from different types of data leave considerable uncertainty about actual early Eocene temperatures. A robust comparison among new paleotemperature proxies may provide insight into possible biases in their temperature estimates, and additional detail on the spatial distribution of temperatures will further resolve the early Eocene meridional temperature gradient. We use a suite of paleotemperature proxies based on the chemistry of bivalve shell carbonate and associated sedimentary organic matter from the United States Gulf Coastal Plain to constrain climate at a subtropical site during this key interval of Earth history. Oxygen isotope and clumped isotope analyses of shell carbonate and two tetraether lipid analyses of sedimentary organic carbon all yield temperatures of ∼27 °C. High-resolution, intraannual oxygen isotope data reveal a consistent, large range of seasonal variation, but clumped isotope data suggest that seasonality is due primarily to precipitation, not to temperature. These paleotemperature estimates are 2–3 °C warmer than the northern Gulf of Mexico today, and generally consistent with early Eocene temperature estimates from other low and mid-latitude locations, but are significantly cooler than contemporaneous estimates from high southern latitudes.

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