Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Department of


Date of this Version



Clim. Past, 18, 681–712, 2022


Used by permission.


Paleogene hyperthermals, including the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) and several other smaller events, represent global perturbations to Earth’s climate system and are characterized by warmer temperatures, changes in floral and faunal communities, and hydrologic changes. These events are identified in the geologic record globally by negative carbon isotope excursions (CIEs), resulting from the input of isotopically light carbon into Earth’s atmosphere. Much about the causes and effects of hyperthermals remains uncertain, including whether all hyperthermals were caused by the same underlying processes, how biotic effects scale with the magnitude of hyperthermals, and why CIEs are larger in paleosol carbonates relative to marine records. Resolving these questions is crucial for a full understanding of the causes of hyperthermals and their application to future climate scenarios. The primary purpose of this study was to identify early Eocene hyperthermals in the Fifteenmile Creek area of the south-central Bighorn Basin, Wyoming, USA. This area preserves a sequence of fluvial floodplain sedimentary rocks containing paleosol carbonates and an extensive record of fossil mammals. Previous analysis of faunal assemblages in this area revealed two pulses of mammal turnover and changes in diversity interpreted to correlate with the ETM2 and H2 hyperthermals that follow the PETM. This was, however, based on long-distance correlation of the fossil record in this area with chemostratigraphic records from elsewhere in the basin.

We present new carbon isotope stratigraphies using micrite δ13C values from paleosol carbonate nodules preserved in and between richly fossiliferous mammal localities at Fifteenmile Creek to identify the stratigraphic positions of ETM2 and H2. Carbon isotope results show that the ETM2 and H2 hyperthermals, and possibly the subsequent I1 hyperthermal, are recorded at Fifteenmile Creek. ETM2 and H2 overlap with the two previously recognized pulses of mammal turnover. The CIEs for these hyperthermals are also somewhat smaller in magnitude than in more northerly Bighorn Basin records. We suggest that basin-wide differences in soil moisture and/or vegetation could contribute to variable CIE amplitudes in this and other terrestrial records.