Warm plankton soup and red herrings: Calcareous nannoplankton cellular communities and the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum

Samantha J. Gibbs, Rosie M. Sheward, Paul R. Bown, Alex J. Poulton, Sarah A. Alvarez

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20 Citations (Scopus)
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Past global warming events such as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM - 56 Ma) are attributed to the release of vast amounts of carbon into the ocean, atmosphere and biosphere with recovery ascribed to a combination of silicate weathering and organic carbon burial. The phytoplanktonic nannoplankton are major contributors of organic and inorganic carbon but their role in this recovery process remains poorly understood and complicated by their contribution to marine calcification. Biocalcification is implicated not only in long-term carbon burial but also both short-term positive and negative climatic feedbacks associated with seawater buffering and responses to ocean acidification. Here, we use exceptional records of preserved fossil coccospheres to reconstruct cell size distribution, biomass production (particulate organic carbon, POC) and (particulate) inorganic carbon (PIC) yields of three contrasting nannoplankton communities (Bass River - outer shelf, Maud Rise - uppermost bathyal, Shatsky Rise - open ocean) through the PETM onset and recovery. Each of the sites show contrasting community responses across the PETM as a function of their taxic composition and total community biomass. Our results indicate that nannoplankton PIC:POC had no role in short-term climate feedback and, as such, their importance as a source of CO2 to the environment is a red herring. It is nevertheless likely that shifts to greater numbers of smaller cells at the shelf site in particular led to greater carbon transfer efficiency, and that nannoplankton productivity and export across the shelves had a significant modulating effect on carbon sequestration during the PETM recovery.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20170075
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Issue number2130
Early online date3 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - 8 Oct 2018


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