Silicate Weathering and Carbon Cycle Controls on the Oligocene-Miocene Transition Glaciation

Joseph Stewart, Rachael H. James, Pallavi Anand, Paul A. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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hanges in both silicate weathering rates and organic carbon burial have been proposed as drivers of the transient “Mi-1” glaciation event at the Oligocene-Miocene transition (OMT; ~23 Ma). However, detailed geochemical proxy data are required to test these hypotheses. Here we present records of Li/Ca, Mg/Ca, Cd/Ca, U/Ca, δ18O, δ13C, and shell weight in planktonic foraminifera from marine sediments spanning the OMT in the equatorial Atlantic Ocean. Li/Ca values increase by 1 μmol/mol across this interval. We interpret this to indicate an ~20% increase in silicate weathering rates, which would have lowered atmospheric CO2, potentially forcing the Antarctic glaciation ~ 23 Ma. δ13C of thermocline dwelling planktonic foraminifera track the global increase in seawater δ13C across the OMT and during the Mi-1 event, hence supporting a hypothesized global increase in organic carbon burial rates. High δ13C previously measured in epipelagic planktonic foraminifera and high Cd/Ca ratios during Mi-1 are interpreted to represent locally enhanced primary productivity, stimulated by increased nutrients supply to surface waters. The fingerprint of high export production and associated organic carbon burial at this site is found in reduced bottom water oxygenation (inferred from high foraminiferal U/Ca) and enhanced respiratory dissolution of carbonates, characterized by reduced foraminiferal shell weight. Replication of our results elsewhere would strengthen the case that weathering-induced CO2 sequestration preconditioned climate for Antarctic ice sheet growth across the OMT, and increased burial of organic carbon acted as a feedback that intensified cooling at this time.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalPaleoceanography and Paleoclimatology
Early online date28 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2017


  • planktonic foraminifera
  • silicate weathering
  • organic carbon
  • Mi-1
  • Li/Ca


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