CO2-driven ocean circulation changes as an amplifier of Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum hydrate destabilization
Changes in ocean circulation have been proposed as a trigger mechanism for the large coupled climate and carbon cycle perturbations at the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM, ca. 55 Ma). An abrupt warming of oceanic intermediate waters could have initiated the thermal destabilization of sediment-hosted methane gas hydrates and potentially triggered sediment slumps and slides. In an ensemble of fully coupled atmosphere-ocean general circulation model (AOGCM) simulations of the late Paleocene and early Eocene, we identify such a circulation-driven enhanced intermediate-water warming. Critically, we find an approximate twofold amplification of Atlantic intermediate-water warming when CO2 levels are doubled from 2x to 4x preindustrial CO2 compared to when they are doubled from 1x to 2x. This warming is largely focused on the equatorial and South Atlantic and is driven by a significant reduction in deep-water formation from the Southern Ocean. This scenario is consistent with altered PETM circulation patterns inferred from benthic carbon isotope data and the intensity of deep-sea carbonate dissolution in the South Atlantic. The linkage between intermediate-water warming and gas hydrate destabilization could provide an important feedback in the establishment of peak PETM warmth.
Authors: Lunt, Daniel J., Valdes, Paul J., Dunkley Jones, Tom, Ridgwell, Andy, Haywood, Alan M., Schmidt, Daniela N., Marsh, Robert, Maslin, Mark