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Climate of the Past An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 09 Oct 2018

Research article | 09 Oct 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Climate of the Past (CP).

Mercury anomalies across the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum

Morgan T. Jones1, Lawrence M. E. Percival2,a, Ella W. Stokke1, Joost Frieling3, Tamsin A. Mather2, Lars Riber4, Brian A. Schubert5, Bo Schultz6, Christian Tegner7, Sverre Planke1,8, and Henrik H. Svensen1 Morgan T. Jones et al.
  • 1Centre for Earth Evolution and Dynamics (CEED), University of Oslo, PO Box 1028 Blindern, 0315 Oslo, Norway
  • 2Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3AN, UK
  • 3Department of Earth Sciences, Utrecht University, Princetonlaan 8a, 3584 CB, Utrecht, Netherlands
  • 4Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, PO Box 1047 Blindern, 0316 Oslo, Norway
  • 5School of Geosciences, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 611 McKinley St, Hamilton Hall #323, Lafayette, LA 70504 USA
  • 6Museum Salling – Fur Museum, 7884 Fur, Denmark
  • 7Department of Geoscience, Aarhus University, Høegh-Guldbergs Gade 2, building 1672, 321, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark
  • 8Volcanic Basin Petroleum Research (VBPR AS), Forskningsparken, Gaustadalléen 21, 0349 Oslo, Norway
  • acurrent address: Institut des sciences de la Terre, Géopolis, Université de Lausanne, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland

Abstract. Large-scale magmatic events like the emplacement of the North Atlantic Igneous Province (NAIP) are often coincident with periods of extreme climate change such as the Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). One proxy for volcanism in the geological record that is receiving increased attention is the use of mercury (Hg) anomalies. Volcanic eruptions are among the dominant natural sources of Hg to the environment; thus, elevated Hg/TOC values in the sedimentary rock record may reflect an increase in volcanic activity at the time of deposition. Here we focus on five continental shelf sections located around the NAIP in the Paleogene. We measured Hg, total organic carbon (TOC) concentrations, and δ13C values to assess how Hg deposition fluctuated across the carbon isotope excursion (CIE). We find a huge variation in Hg anomalies between sites. The Grane field in the North Sea, the most proximal locality to the NAIP analyzed, shows Hg concentrations up to 90,100ppb (Hg/TOC = 95,700ppb/wt%) in the early Eocene. Significant Hg/TOC anomalies are also present in Danish (up to 324ppb/wt%) and Svalbard (up to 257ppb/wt%) sections prior to the onset of the PETM and during the recovery period, while the Svalbard section also shows a continuous Hg/TOC anomaly during the body of the CIE. The combination with other tracers of volcanism, tephra layers and unradiogenic Os isotopes, at these localities suggests that the Hg/TOC anomalies reflect pulses of magmatic activity. In contrast, we do not observe clear Hg anomalies on the New Jersey shelf (Bass River) or the Arctic Ocean (Lomonosov Ridge). This large spatial variance could be due to more regional Hg deposition. One possibility is that phreatomagmatic eruptions and hydrothermal vent complexes formed during the emplacement of sills led to submarine Hg release, which is observed to result in limited distribution in the modern. The Hg/TOC anomalies in strata deposited prior to the CIE may suggest that magmatism linked to the emplacement of the NAIP contributed to the initiation of the PETM. However, evidence for considerable volcanism in the form of numerous tephra layers and Hg/TOC anomalies post-PETM indicates a complicated relationship between LIP volcanism and climate. Factors such as climate system feedbacks, changes to the NAIP emplacement style, and/or varying magma production rates may be key to both the onset and cessation of hyperthermal conditions during the PETM.

Morgan T. Jones et al.
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Morgan T. Jones et al.
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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Mercury anomalies in sedimentary rocks are used to assess whether there were periods of elevated volcanism in the geological record. Here we focus on five sites that cover the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, an extreme global warming event that occurred 55.8 million years ago. We find that sites close to the eruptions from the North Atlantic Igneous Province display significant mercury anomalies across this time interval, suggesting that the magmatism played a role in the global warming event.
Mercury anomalies in sedimentary rocks are used to assess whether there were periods of elevated...