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Oligocene discussion day

On the 16th of May, the University of Bristol held a half-day meeting devoted to the discussion of the Oligocene epoch (34 to 23 million years ago [Ma]). The Oligocene is a period of relative climate stability following the establishment of permanent ice sheets on Antarctica (34Ma). By the early Miocene (23Ma), atmospheric CO2 was low enough to allow the development of northern hemispheric ice sheets1. As a result, the Oligocene may have been the only time in the Cenozoic era (65-0Ma) during which a unipolar glaciation could exist.

Despite this, the Oligocene has received little attention from the Cenozoic palaeoclimate community. The aim of this event was to promote awareness of the Oligocene and encourage future research within this field.

Ellen Thomas, currently in Bristol on sabbatical from Yale, and David Armstrong-McKay, from the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), began the morning session with a series of talks devoted to the late Eocene and early Oligocene. Ellen discussed the Eocene-Oligocene transition (34Ma) from both a modern2 and historical3 perspective while David outlined the competing hypothesis put forward to explain the event4.   Dierderik Liebrand, also from the NOC, followed this with a talk on late Oligocene and early Miocene (24-19Ma) cyclostratigraphy5.  Following lunch, Bridget Wade gave an hour-long seminar on the Eocene-Oligocene boundary (34Ma)6 and the middle Oligocene (24-30Ma)7. Bridget’s talk doubled as a departmental seminar in the School of Geography.

Figure 1: A compilation of benthic foraminifera oxygen isotope values. During the Oligocene, this reflects a combination of ice volume and temperature7

The event was hosted by Gordon Inglis, a PhD student in the School of Chemistry, and was funded by Professor Rich Pancost (Global Change) and Professor Paul Valdes (School of Geography).


For more information, please consult the following references:

1. Zachos, et al. (2008) An early Cenozoic perspective on greenhouse warming and carbon-cycle dynamics: Nature, v. 451, p. 279-283
2. Liu, Z. et al (2009) Global cooling during the Eocene-Oligocene transition: Science, v. 323, p. 1187-1190
3. Kennett and Shackleton (1976) Oxygen isotopic evidence for the development of the psychrosphere 38 Myr ago: Nature, v. 260, p. 513-515
4. Merico, A, et al. (2008) Eocene/Oligocene ocean de-acidifiation linked to Antarctic glaciation by sea level fall: Nature, v. 452, p. 979-982
5. Liebrand, D., et al. (2011) Antarctic ice sheets and oceanographic response to eccentricity forcing during the early Miocene: Climate of the Past, v. 7, p. 869-880
6. Wade, B., et al (2011) Multiproxy record of abrupt sea-surface cooling across the Eocene-Oligocene transition in the Gulf of Mexico: Geology, v. 40, p. 159-162
7.  Wade, B. And Palike, H., (2004) Oligocene climate dynamics: Palaeoceanography, v. 19, PA4019


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