Articles | Volume 12, issue 20
Research article
16 Oct 2015
Research article |  | 16 Oct 2015

Stable isotope paleoclimatology of the earliest Eocene using kimberlite-hosted mummified wood from the Canadian Subarctic

B. A. Hook, J. Halfar, Z. Gedalof, J. Bollmann, and D. J. Schulze

Abstract. The recent discovery of well-preserved mummified wood buried within a subarctic kimberlite diamond mine prompted a paleoclimatic study of the early Eocene "hothouse" (ca. 53.3 Ma). At the time of kimberlite eruption, the Subarctic was warm and humid producing a temperate rainforest biome well north of the Arctic Circle. Previous studies have estimated that mean annual temperatures in this region were 4–20 °C in the early Eocene, using a variety of proxies including leaf margin analysis and stable isotopes (δ13C and δ18O) of fossil cellulose. Here, we examine stable isotopes of tree-ring cellulose at subannual- to annual-scale resolution, using the oldest viable cellulose found to date. We use mechanistic models and transfer functions to estimate earliest Eocene temperatures using mummified cellulose, which was well preserved in the kimberlite. Multiple samples of Piceoxylon wood within the kimberlite were crossdated by tree-ring width. Multiple proxies are used in combination to tease apart likely environmental factors influencing the tree physiology and growth in the unique extinct ecosystem of the Polar rainforest. Calculations of interannual variation in temperature over a multidecadal time-slice in the early Eocene are presented, with a mean annual temperature (MAT) estimate of 11.4 °C (1 σ = 1.8 °C) based on δ18O, which is 16 °C warmer than the current MAT of the area (−4.6 °C). Early Eocene atmospheric δ13C (δ13Catm) estimates were −5.5 (±0.7) ‰. Isotopic discrimination (Δ) and leaf intercellular pCO2 ratio (ci/ca) were similar to modern values (Δ = 18.7 ± 0.8 ‰; ci/ca = 0.63 ± 0.03 %), but intrinsic water use efficiency (Early Eocene iWUE = 211 ± 20 μmol mol−1) was over twice the level found in modern high-latitude trees. Dual-isotope spectral analysis suggests that multidecadal climate cycles somewhat similar to the modern Pacific Decadal Oscillation likely drove temperature and cloudiness trends on 20–30-year timescales, influencing photosynthetic productivity and tree growth patterns.

Short summary
The recent discovery of mummified wood (non-petrified) within kimberlite diamond mines in Northwest Territories, Canada, has prompted a paleoclimatic investigation of the time in which the trees grew - the earliest Eocene (ca. 53.3 Ma). Multiple proxy records derived from these samples suggest that during greenhouse climates of the Eocene, subarctic Canada was characterized by high temperatures (+16 C above modern), and multidecadal variability in cloudiness and temperature on 20-30 year cycles.
Final-revised paper