Journal article

Burial-induced oxygen-isotope re-equilibration of fossil foraminifera explains ocean paleotemperature paradoxes

Oxygen-isotope compositions of fossilised planktonic and benthic foraminifera tests are used as proxies for surface-and deep-ocean paleotemperatures, providing a continuous benthic record for the past 115 Ma. However, visually imperceptible processes can alter these proxies during sediment burial. Here, we investigate the diffusion-controlled re-equilibration process with experiments exposing foraminifera tests to elevated pressures and temperatures in isotopically heavy artificial seawater (H-2 O-18), followed by scanning electron microscopy and quantitative NanoSIMS imaging: oxygen-isotope compositions changed heterogeneously at submicrometer length scales without any observable modifications of the test ultrastructures. In parallel, numerical modelling of diffusion during burial shows that oxygen-isotope reequilibration of fossil foraminifera tests can cause significant overestimations of ocean paleotemperatures on a time scale of 10(7) years under natural conditions. Our results suggest that the late Cretaceous and Paleogene deep-ocean and high-latitude surface-ocean temperatures were significantly lower than is generally accepted, thereby explaining the paradox of the low equator-to-pole surface-ocean thermal gradient inferred for these periods.


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