Seasonality, Summer Cooling, and Calibrating the Approach of the Icehouse in Late Eocene Antarctica
In order to understand what environmental conditions might look like for future generations, we need to turn to archives of past times when the world was indeed warmer, before anyone was around to commit them to collective memory. The geologic record of Earth's past offers a glimpse of what could be in store for the future. Research by Ivany and her team looks to Antarctica during a time of past global warmth to see how seasonality of temperature and rainfall in coastal settings are likely to change in the future. They will use the chemistry of fossils (a natural archive of these variables) to test a provocative hypothesis about near-monsoonal conditions in the high latitudes when the oceans are warm. If true, we can expect high-latitude shipping lanes to become more hazardous and fragile marine ecosystems adapted to constant cold temperatures to suffer. With growing information about how human activities are likely to affect the planet in the future, we will be able to make more informed decisions about policies today. This research involves an international team of scholars, including several women scientists, training of graduate students, and a public museum exhibit to educate children about how we study Earth's ancient climate and what we can learn from it.
Antarctica is key to an understanding how Earth?s climate system works under conditions of elevated CO2. The poles are the most sensitive regions on the planet to climate change, and the equator-to-pole temperature gradient and the degree to which high-latitude warming is amplified are important components for climate models to capture. Accurate proxy data with good age control are therefore critical for testing numerical models and establishing global patterns. The La Meseta Formation on Seymour Island is the only documented marine section from the globally warm Eocene Epoch exposed in outcrop on the continent; hence its climate record is integral to studies of warming. Early data suggest the potential for strongly seasonal precipitation and runoff in coastal settings. This collaboration among paleontologists, geochemists, and climate modelers will test this using seasonally resolved del-18O data from fossil shallow marine bivalves to track the evolution of seasonality through the section, in combination with independent proxies for the composition of summer precipitation (leaf wax del-D) and local seawater (clumped isotopes). The impact of the anticipated salinity stratification on regional climate will be evaluated in the context of numerical climate model simulations. In addition to providing greater clarity on high-latitude conditions during this time of high CO2, the combination of proxy and model results will provide insights about how Eocene warmth may have been maintained and how subsequent cooling came about. As well, a new approach to the analysis of shell carbonates for 87Sr/86Sr will allow refinements in age control so as to allow correlation of this important section with other regions to clarify global climate gradients. The project outlined here will develop new and detailed paleoclimate records from existing samples using well-tuned as well as newer proxies applied here in novel ways. Seasonal extremes are climate parameters generally inaccessible to most studies but critical to an understanding of climate change; these are possible to resolve in this well-preserved, accretionary-macrofossil-bearing section. This is an integrated study that links marine and terrestrial climate records for a key region of the planet across the most significant climate transition in the Cenozoic.
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