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Consequences of a Longer PETM

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Sometime between the Paleocene and Eocene epochs, there was a mysterious, sudden, dramatic rise in global temperature. This moment in time was known as the "Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum", shortened into "PETM". In just 20 to 50 millennia, the temperature rose by five to eight degrees Celsius, and this heatweave persisted for another 200 millennia (that's just the mean estimate.)

While its impact on terrestrial plant and animal life is well-known, the focus of the thread is on how the PETM impacted the aquatic ecosystems. The warmer the water's temperature, the less oxygen it can hold, resulting in ocean anoxia. And since water has a low albedo, it absorbs carbon dioxide rather than reflects it. And in an episode as CO2-rich as the PETM, the oceans absorbed so much of the greenhouse gas that they had become acidifed. That, in turn, depleted the supply of carbonates, which many animals relied on to build shells and other structures. Indeed, fossil remains of coral reefs dating from the PETM to several million years afterwards were rare, and anywhere between one-third and half of all the deep-sea species of foraminifera (tiny, planktonic lifeforms) went extinct. Finally, the warmer waters also affected the arrangement of a particular layer called the lysocline:



The lysocline marks the depth at which carbonate starts to dissolve (above the lysocline, carbonate is oversaturated): today, this is at about 4 km, comparable to the median depth of the oceans. This depth depends on (among other things) temperature and the amount of CO2 dissolved in the ocean. Adding CO2 initially raises the lysocline, resulting in the dissolution of deep water carbonates. This deep-water acidification can be observed in ocean cores, which show (where bioturbation has not destroyed the signal) an abrupt change from grey carbonate ooze to red clays (followed by a gradual grading back to grey). It is far more pronounced in north Atlantic cores than elsewhere, suggesting that acidification was more concentrated here, related to a greater rise in the level of the lysocline. In parts of the southeast Atlantic, the lysocline rose by 2 km in just a few thousand years.


The point of departure is this--The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum did happen at the same time as OTL and at the same speed, but it lasted three to four times longer. With that in mind, questions follow:

  1. Would a longer PETM lift the lysocline closer to the surface?
  2. Based on our knowledge of shark and ray species that were around to witness the PETM, would any of them survive the longer period of warmer, more acidic oceans? And were there any freshwater species at the time?
  3. Would a longer PETM destroy the coral reefs (as is my primary target), and if yes, how would that affect the other invertebrates and the fish that relied on the reefs for food, shelter and breeding?
  4. Would life in brackish and fresh water fare better than in seawater?
  5. Could pelagic (open-ocean) species have a chance of surviving a longer PETM? And if they colonized the shallow water ecosystems, could they evolve to grow smaller?

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