The Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), ca. 55 Ma, was a period of extreme global warming caused by rapid emission of greenhouse gases. It is unknown what ended this episode of greenhouse warming, but high oceanic export productivity over thousands of years (as indicated by high accumulation rates of barium, Ba) may have been a factor in ending this warm period by carbon sequestration. However, Ba has a short oceanic residence time (∼10 k.y.), so a prolonged global increase in Ba accumulation rates requires an increase in input of Ba to the ocean, increasing barite saturation. We use a novel proxy for barite saturation (Sr/Ba in marine barite) to demonstrate that the seawater saturation state with respect to barite did not change across the PETM. The observations of increased barite burial, no change in saturation, and the short residence time can be reconciled if Ba burial decreased at continental margin and shelf sites due to widespread occurrence of suboxic conditions, leading to Ba release into the water column, combined with increased biological export production at some pelagic sites, resulting in Ba sink reorganization.

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