A rapid sedimentary response to the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum hydrological change: new data from alluvial units of the Tremp-Graus Basin (Spanish Pyrenees)

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Victoriano Pujalte , Birger Schmitz , Aitor Payros 


A massive emission of light carbon about 56 Ma ago, recorded in marine and terrestrial sediments by a negative carbon isotope excursion (CIE), caused a short-lived (~170 kyr) global warming event known as the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). The core of this event is represented in the south Pyrenean Tremp-Graus Basin by two successive alluvial units, the Claret Conglomerate (CC) and the Yellowish Soils, which represent laterally juxtaposed depositional environments. It is generally agreed that these units record a dramatic increase in seasonal rain and an increased intra-annual humidity gradient during the PETM, but the timing of the sedimentary response to the hydrological change is a matter of debate. Some authors maintain that the CC was developed during the early, most intense phase of the carbon emission, others that its formation lagged by 16.5 ± 7.5 kyr behind the onset of the PETM. The latter claim was mainly based on the assumption that in two sections of this basin, Claret and Tendrui, the onset of the CIE occurs 3 and 8 m below the base of the CC, respectively. Here we show that in the zone between these two sections the CC is missing and the Yellowish Soil unit rests directly and conformably on the underlying deposits. New d13Corg data from this zone provide sound evidence that the onset of the CIE is situated just ~1 m below the Yellowish Soils. The CC erosional base cuts down deeper than this figure, rendering it highly unlikely the preservation of the CIE onset below it. A tentative estimate based on sedimentation rates indicates that ~3.8 kyr, or less, may have elapsed from the onset of the CIE to the arrival of PETM alluvium into the Claret-Tendrui study area, about a third of the lowest estimate of previous authors. Since the study area was situated about 15 km from the source area, our new estimate supports a rapid response of the sedimentary system to the hydrological change at the onset of the PETM.




Physical Sciences and Mathematics


PETM; Organic carbon isotopes; Alluvial units, SouthernPyrenees, Spain


Published: 2021-10-12 07:56

Last Updated: 2021-10-12 14:56


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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