A multiple proxy and model study of Cretaceous upper ocean temperatures and atmospheric CO2 concentrations



[1] We estimate tropical Atlantic upper ocean temperatures using oxygen isotope and Mg/Ca ratios in well-preserved planktonic foraminifera extracted from Albian through Santonian black shales recovered during Ocean Drilling Program Leg 207 (North Atlantic Demerara Rise). On the basis of a range of plausible assumptions regarding seawater composition at the time the data support temperatures between 33° and 42°C. In our low-resolution data set spanning ∼84–100 Ma a local temperature maximum occurs in the late Turonian, and a possible minimum occurs in the mid to early late Cenomanian. The relation between single species foraminiferal δ18O and Mg/Ca suggests that the ratio of magnesium to calcium in the Turonian-Coniacian ocean may have been lower than in the Albian-Cenomanian ocean, perhaps coincident with an ocean 87Sr/86Sr minimum. The carbon isotopic compositions of distinct marine algal biomarkers were measured in the same sediment samples. The δ13C values of phytane, combined with foraminiferal δ13C and inferred temperatures, were used to estimate atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations through this interval. Estimates of atmospheric CO2 concentrations range between 600 and 2400 ppmv. Within the uncertainty in the various proxies, there is only a weak overall correspondence between higher (lower) tropical temperatures and more (less) atmospheric CO2. The GENESIS climate model underpredicts tropical Atlantic temperatures inferred from ODP Leg 207 foraminiferal δ18O and Mg/Ca when we specify approximate CO2 concentrations estimated from the biomarker isotopes in the same samples. Possible errors in the temperature and CO2 estimates and possible deficiencies in the model are discussed. The potential for and effects of substantially higher atmospheric methane during Cretaceous anoxic events, perhaps derived from high fluxes from the oxygen minimum zone, are considered in light of recent work that shows a quadratic relation between increased methane flux and atmospheric CH4 concentrations. With 50 ppm CH4, GENESIS sea surface temperatures approximate the minimum upper ocean temperatures inferred from proxy data when CO2 concentrations specified to the model are near those inferred using the phytane δ13C proxy. However, atmospheric CO2 concentrations of 3500 ppm or more are still required in the model in order to reproduce inferred maximum temperatures.