Environmental forcing of terrestrial carbon isotope excursion amplification across five Eocene hyperthermals
Abstract:Abrupt changes in the isotope composition of exogenic carbon pools accompany many major episodes of global change in the geologic record. The global expression of this change in substrates that reflect multiple carbon pools provides important evidence that many events reflect persistent, global redistribution of carbon between reduced and oxidized stocks. As the diversity of records documenting any event grows, however, discrepancies in the expression of carbon isotope change among substrates are almost always revealed. These differences in magnitude, pace, and pattern of change can complicate interpretations of global carbon redistribution, but under ideal circumstances can also provide additional information on changes in specific environmental and biogeochemical systems that accompanied the global events.
Here we evaluate possible environmental influences on new terrestrial records of the negative carbon isotope excursions (CIEs) associated with multiple hyperthermals of the Early Eocene, which show a common pattern of amplified carbon isotope change in terrestrial paleosol carbonate records relative to that recorded in marine substrates. Scaling relationships between climate and carbon-cycle proxies suggest that that the climatic (temperature) impact of each event scaled proportionally with the magnitude of its marine CIE, likely implying that all events involved release of reduced carbon with a similar isotopic composition. Amplification of the terrestrial CIEs, however, does not scale with event magnitude, being proportionally less for the first, largest event (the PETM). We conduct a sensitivity test of a coupled plant-soil carbon isotope model to identify conditions that could account for the observed CIE scaling. At least two possibilities consistent with independent lines of evidence emerge: first, varying effects of pCO2 change on photosynthetic carbon isotope discrimination under changing background pCO2, and second, contrasting changes in regional hydroclimate during the PETM and subsequent hyperthermals. These mechanisms have very different implications for the reconstruction of environmental conditions, and resolving the correct interpretation will require new, complimentary records of plant and soil conditions associated with the Early Eocene hyperthermals.