Ecological and evolutionary response to the PETM in the southern North Sea Basin

Theme: Past Life & Environments

Primary Supervisor:

Jonathan Todd

Earth Sciences, NHM

Secondary Supervisor:

Bridget Wade

Earth Sciences, UCL

Project Description:

The North Sea Basin represents a key area for analyzing the coastal marine biotic response to a major ‘hyperthermal’ – or short duration spike in global temperatures – the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM: 55.8-60.0 Ma) during which rapid warming of 5-8°C occurred within 10 kyr. Biotic response during intervals of earth history affected by rapid global warming is relatively poorly known. Although a major faunal turnover of benthic foraminifera associated with ocean acidification during the PETM is well documented, little is known of the detailed response of coastal macrofaunas to this episode.

Today the southernmost part (Anglo-Paris ‘Basin’) of the North Sea Basin preserves deposits providing the stratigraphically most complete succession known worldwide of highly fossiliferous shallow marine strata spanning the upper Paleocene to lower Eocene. These deposits contain excellently preserved faunas and can be precisely tied to the North Sea succession, globally the stratigraphically best documented marine Paleogene Basin.

The aim of this project is to provide the first detailed quantitative study of taxonomic and ecological response of shallow marine faunas to the PETM, examining pre-event, PETM, flux and post-event faunas. Quantitative studies of macrofaunal (molluscs and others) and selected microbiota will be integrated with isotopic analysis to characterize change at ecologically valuable stratigraphically fine scales.

Research will incorporate museum material and new bulk collections and additional fieldwork from poorly sampled intervals. The student will gain skills in molluscan and (selected) microfaunal biodiversity, stratigraphy, palaeoecology, functional group and community structure analyses, faunal turnover and biodiversity metrics and stable isotope analysis.

Policy Impact of Research:

This project will provide a detailed case study of the ecological and evolutionary response of molluscs and other coastal biota to rapid warming and other oceanographic changes associated with the PETM. This has clear implications for understanding biotic response to ongoing climatic change.

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