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Drivers of marine ecosystem change during an ancient abrupt global warming event

Project Description

The Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) ~56 million years ago, is the largest of a series of abrupt global warming events known from the Cenozoic. During this event, the oceans rapidly warmed by >5 °C and became more acidic, and the world became wetter and stormier with profound consequences for life on land and in the oceans. The PETM was driven by the injection of isotopically light carbon (e.g., from volcanoes or methane hydrates) into the atmosphere, and many of the associated environmental changes are similar to those occurring today. Therefore, the PETM is often considered the best geological analogue to help us understand anthropogenic environmental change and its impacts. However, whilst a large number of studies have investigated biotic and environmental change at the PETM, these have primarily focussed on individual sites or single organismal groups, preventing an understanding of both the spatial patterns of change (e.g., development of tropical exclusion zones) and ecosystem functioning before, during and after abrupt environmental change, and the relative role of abiotic drivers on these changes.
The student will address this deficit by generating/compiling datasets to quantify marine ecosystem change globally. These data will be integrated with extensive palaeoenvironmental datasets, in many cases from the same sites. Key questions that will be addressed include:
- was there a change in ecosystem function during the PETM?
- was temperature the dominant driver of marine ecosystem change?
- How do organisms with different ecologies and habitat preferences respond to the same environmental drivers?

Funding Notes

Self fund students


Danise, S. et al., (2014). ‘Environmental controls on Jurassic marine ecosystems during global warming’. Geology, 43, pp. 263-266.
Foster, W., and Twitchett, R. J. (2014). ‘Functional diversity of marine ecosystems after the Late Permian mass extinction event’. Nature Geoscience, 7, pp. 233-238.
Kunzig, R. (2011). World Without Ice. National Geographic. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22nd Oct. 2018].
McInerney, F.A. and Wing, S.L. (2011). ‘The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal maximum: A Perturbation of Carbon Cycle, Climate and Biosphere with Implications for the Future’. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 39, pp. 489-516.

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 25.00

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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