AR6 and The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum

by Andy May, Aug 18, 2021 in WUWT

The PETM or Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum was a warm period that began between 56.3 and 55.9 Ma (million years ago). The IPCC AR6 report (actually a draft, not a final edited report), released to the public on August 9, 2021, suggests that this warm period is similar to what is happening today and they expect to happen in the future (IPCC, 2021, pp. 2-82 & 5-14). During the PETM, it was very warm and average global surface temperatures probably peaked between 25.5°C and 26°C briefly, compared to a global surface temperature average of about 14.5°C today, as shown in Figure 1.



oday we have tens of thousands of daily temperature measurements around the world and can calculate a fairly accurate global average surface temperature. To construct a global average for the PETM we must rely on proxy temperatures, such as oxygen isotope ratios, Calcium/Magnesium ratios in fossil shells, and fossil membrane lipids that are sensitive to temperature like Tex86. Proxy temperature values are sparsely located and have a temporal resolution, 56 Ma, of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years. Thus, in terms of rate of temperature change, they are not comparable to today’s monthly global averages.

Before diving into the PETM, we will provide some geological perspective. According to Christopher Scotese, the highest global average temperature in the Phanerozoic (the age of complex shelled organisms, or the past 550 million years) was the Triassic hothouse event, following the end of the Karoo Ice Age, around 250-300 Ma. Global average surface temperatures peaked then at about 27.9°C.