A case for a comet impact trigger for the Paleocene/Eocene thermal maximum and carbon isotope excursion

Kent, Dennis V.; Cramer, B. S.; Lanci, L.; Wang, D.; Wright, J. D.; Van der Voo, R.

We hypothesize that the rapid onset of the carbon isotope excursion (CIE) at the Paleocene/Eocene boundary (V55 Ma) may have resulted from the accretion of a significant amount of 12C-enriched carbon from the impact of a V10 km comet, an event that would also trigger greenhouse warming leading to the Paleocene/Eocene thermal maximum and, possibly, thermal dissociation of seafloor methane hydrate. Indirect evidence of an impact is the unusual abundance of magnetic nanoparticles in kaolinite-rich shelf sediments that closely coincide with the onset and nadir of the CIE at three drill sites on the Atlantic Coastal Plain. After considering various alternative mechanisms that could have produced the magnetic nanoparticle assemblage and by analogy with the reported detection of iron-rich nanophase material at the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary, we suggest that the CIE occurrence was derived from an impact plume condensate. The sudden increase in kaolinite is thus thought to represent the redeposition on the marine shelf of a rapidly weathered impact ejecta dust blanket. Published reports of a small but significant iridium anomaly at or close to the Paleocene/Eocene boundary provide supportive evidence for an impact.


Also Published In

Earth and Planetary Science Letters

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Biology and Paleo Environment
Published Here
December 10, 2014