Temperature evolution and the oxygen isotope composition of Phanerozoic oceans from carbonate clumped isotope thermometry Academic Article uri icon


  • 2018 Elsevier B.V. Surface temperature is among the most important parameters describing planetary climate and habitability, and yet there remains considerable debate about the temperature evolution of the Earth's oceans during the Phanerozoic Eon (541 million years ago to present), the time during which complex metazoan life radiated on Earth. Here we critically assess the emerging record of Phanerozoic ocean temperatures based on carbonate clumped isotope thermometry of fossil brachiopod and mollusk shells, and we present new data that fill important gaps in the Late Paleozoic record. We evaluate and reject the hypothesis that solid-state reordering of 13C18O bonds has destroyed the primary clumped isotope temperature signal of most fossils during sedimentary burial at elevated temperatures. The resulting Phanerozoic record, which shows a general coupling between tropical seawater temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels since the Paleozoic, indicates that tropical temperatures during the icehouse climate of the Carboniferous period were broadly similar to present (2530 C), and suggests that benthic metazoans were able to thrive at temperatures of 3540 C during intervals of the early and possibly the latest Paleozoic when CO2 levels were likely 510 higher than present-day values. Equally important, there is no resolvable trend in seawater oxygen isotope ratios (18O) over the past 500 million years, indicating that the average temperature of oxygen exchange between seawater and the oceanic crust has been high (270 C) since at least the early Paleozoic, which points to mid-ocean ridges as the dominant locus of waterrock interaction over the past half-billion years.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 60.74

author list (cited authors)

  • Henkes, G. A., Passey, B. H., Grossman, E. L., Shenton, B. J., Yancey, T. E., & Perez-Huerta, A.

citation count

  • 86

complete list of authors

  • Henkes, Gregory A||Passey, Benjamin H||Grossman, Ethan L||Shenton, Brock J||Yancey, Thomas E||Perez-Huerta, Alberto

publication date

  • January 2018