PALEOPOLAR - Impact of global disturbances on the evolution of life in the polar regions during the early Cenozoic

This project will investigate the impact of major global disturbances on marine and terrestrial ecosystems during the latest Cretaceous–early Cenozoic period of global warming, with particular emphasis on the evolution of life in the environmentally-sensitive polar regions. We will test the hypothesis that a range of major disturbances reset the global evolutionary clock in this climatically-sensitive period, and had a pronounced effect on polar biotas long before the onset of global cooling that led to Cenozoic glaciation.

This period includes the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K–Pg) mass extinction event and the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum, as well as other hyperthermal climate events. 

Using new sediment and faunal and floral fossil collections from Seymour Island, Antarctica we will construct a palaeotemperature record for the latest Cretaceous–early Paleogene using a variety of geochemical and palaeontological proxies, which will allow us to establish the occurrence and magnitude of global climatic events in southern high latitudes.

This new temperature data will allow us to determine global latitudinal temperature gradients and assess how diversity in Antarctic biotas related to changes in environmental conditions (e.g. changes in temperature, seasonality, carbon cycling). We will determine the scale of the K–Pg mass extinction and nature and timing of biotic recovery in Antarctica during the Paleocene and assess the impact on polar biotas of climatic events of shorter duration. Using comparisons with Arctic and low latitude data, we will determine whether there was a specific polar response to environmental perturbations, and whether high latitude warming caused both extinctions and radiations in polar biotas.

This project is funded by the NERC Long Term Co-evolution of Life and the Planet program.

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