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Surviving in the Eocene Ocean: the unbearable warmness of being

During episodes of extreme global warming in the Eocene (56 to 34 million years ago), the polar oceans are thought to have become as warm as the tropics are today. If this is true, the oceans must have become unbearably warm for those organisms living at the limits of their tolerance in both tropical and polar waters. The Eocene was the last time that the Earth experienced a truly greenhouse climate with atmospheric CO2 levels >1000 ppmv. It is thus a critical interval for understanding the influence of extreme warmth on the oceans and predicting how physical and biological systems will respond to future global warming.

In this Marsden-funded project, we will investigate how cool-water species that thrived in the late Paleocene ocean (~60 million years ago) responded to episodes of global warmth in the early Eocene. Our aim is to determine if trends in species turnover and geographic distribution for Paleogene marine plankton are consistent with evidence for extreme polar warmth during the early Eocene. Potential advances in knowledge stemming from our research include: resolving the current high latitude proxy-model mismatch for greenhouse climate states; identifying the impact of extreme global warming on high-latitude marine organisms; and developing new fossil-based tools for Paleogene climate reconstruction.

Principal Investigator: Chris Hollis

Associate Investigators:

  • Dr Denise Kulhanek, Texas A&M University
  • Mr Hugh Morgans, GNS Science
  • Dr Giuseppe Cortese, GNS Science
  • Dr Claudia Agnini, University of Padova, Italy
  • Dr Shin-ichi Kamikuri, Kochi University, Japan
  • Dr Bridget Wade, University of Leeds, UK
  • Professor James Zachos, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA
  • Professor Gerald Dickens, Rice University, USA
  • Professor Matthew Huber, Purdue University, USA