Ice in the Greenhouse

A Paleocene record of Antarctic deepwater flow.

Paleocene-Eocene boundary on Campbell Island

The contact between the dark mudstone of the Garden Cove Formation and the ovelying pale Tucker Cover Limestone marks 10 million years of deep-sea erosion across the Paleocene-Eocene boundary on Campbell Island, south of New Zealand, and provides evidence for Antarctic-sourced deep water between 60 and 50 million years ago. Photo: Chris Hollis

In the course of this research project, we amassed a wide range of evidence to show that an Antarctic ice sheet formed in the late Paleocene. Because this occurred ~25 million years prior the opening of a circum-Antarctic seaway, we contend that thermal isolation is not required for ice sheets to form on Antarctica. We further contend that the converse may also be true. The present-day circum-Antarctic seaway is unlikely to act as a significant buffer to slow the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet as a consequence of greenhouse gas-induced global warming.

This research has shown that deposition of organic carbon-rich mud throughout the Southwest Pacific around 58 million years ago was linked to a significant fall in sea level, widespread erosion and pronounced cooling of sea surface and sea floor temperatures. Whereas cooling may have been restricted to the Southern Pacific, the fall in sea level appears to have been global. This implies that sea-level fall was caused by growth of an Antarctic ice sheet. With collaborator Matthew Huber, we have demonstrated that Antarctic ice sheet build-up is consistent with climate model results for Paleocene greenhouse conditions.

In a serendipitous outcome of this research, we have greatly increased the oil and gas prospectivity of the Southwest Pacific by extending the geographic extent of a late Paleocene petroleum source rock (Waipawa Formation) to offshore Tasmania, western Tasman Sea. Previously, this source rock was thought to be mainly restricted to sedimentary basins of eastern New Zealand.

This project has directly funded two theses at Master’s level, and has been closely aligned with two independently funded doctoral studies.

Major publications:
  • Hollis, C.J., Tayler, M.J.S., Andrew, B., Taylor, K.W., Lurcock, P., Bijl, P.K., Kulhanek, D.K., Crouch, E.M., Nelson, C.S., Pancost, R.D., Huber, M., Wilson, G.S., Ventura, G.T., Crampton, J.S., Schiøler, P., Phillips, A., 2014. Organic-rich sedimentation in the South Pacific Ocean associated with Late Paleocene climatic cooling. Earth-Science Reviews 134, 81-97.
  • Hollis, C.J., Crouch, E.M., Kulhanek, D.K., Ventura, G.T., Tayler, M.J.S., 2014. How regional transgression and short-lived climatic cooling created the Late Paleogene Waipawa Formation : implications for petroleum exploration throughout the SW Pacific. Advantage NZ: Geotechnical Petroleum Forum 2014, 1-3 April 2014, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington. New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals.
  • Hollis, C.J., Taylor, K.W.T., Handley, L., Pancost, R.D., Huber, M., Creech, J., Hines, B., Crouch, E.M., Morgans, H.E.G., Crampton, J.S., Gibbs, S., Pearson, P., Zachos, J.C., 2012. Early Paleogene temperature history of the Southwest Pacific Ocean: reconciling proxies and models. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 349-350, 53-66.
  • Lurcock, P., 2011. Palaeomagnetism of Palaeogene strata from southern Zealandia: implications for ice in the greenhouse, Geology. University of Otago, Dunedin, p. 359.
  • Tayler, M.J.S., 2011. Investigating stratigraphic evidence for Antarctic glaciation in the greenhouse world of the Paleocene, eastern North Island, New Zealand, Earth and Ocean Sciences. University of Waikato, Hamilton, p. 292.
  • Taylor, K.W.T., 2011. Paleocene climate and carbon cycle: insights into an unstable greenhouse from a biomarker and compound specific carbon isotope approach. University of Bristol, Bristol, p. 310.
  • Andrew, B., 2010. Sedimentary facies and unconformity analysis of some Paleocene-Eocene sections, Marlborough and Campbell Island, New Zealand, Earth and Ocean Sciences. University of Waikato, Hamilton, p. 227.
  • Schiøler, P., Rogers, K.M., Sykes, R., Hollis, C.J., Ilg, B.R., Meadows, D., Roncaglia, L., Uruski, C.I., 2010. Palynofacies, organic geochemistry and depositional environment of the Tartan Formation (Late Paleocene), a potential source rock in the Great South Basin, New Zealand. Marine and petroleum geology 27(2), 351-369; 310.1016/j.marpetgeo.2009.1009.1006.

Principal Investigator: Chris Hollis

Associate Investigators:

  • Dr James Crampton, GNS Science
  • Professor Cam Nelson, University of Waikato
  • Professor Gary Wilson, University of Otago
  • Dr Richard Pancost, University of Bristol UK
  • Dr Poul Schiøler, GNS Science
  • Dr Percy Strong, GNS Science