A major change in Cenozoic deep‐sea benthic foraminifera occurred in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans near the Paleocene/Eocene boundary. Benthic foraminiferal abundance changes began at about 61.5 Ma at Pacific Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP) Site 577. A major extinction event followed at 58–57 Ma (between Zones P6a and P6b), and a series of first appearances continued until circa 55.5 Ma (Zone P6c). These faunal changes occurred during a 6°C warming of Pacific bottom water and may indicate that the primary cause was changing temperature. Other potential causes of the faunal turnover include global changes in surface ocean productivity and changing bottom water source regions. Comparison of benthic and planktonic δ13C records requires no change in the ratio of oceanic phosphorous to carbon during the late Paleocene to early Eocene, which weakens the case for (but does not disprove) a change in surface ocean productivity at this time. Interbasinal comparisons of benthic foraminiferal δ13C records document that water with high δ13C values filled the Cape Basin during the late Paleocene and possibly the early Eocene (circa 61–57 Ma), but apparently did not extend into the western basins of the Atlantic. This pattern suggests a supply of Antarctic source water for the Cape Basin and possible tectonic isolation of the western Atlantic basins during at least part of the late Paleocene. Carbon isotope comparisons show that bottom water supply to the Cape Basin was reduced in the early Eocene. Eolian grain size data suggest that a decrease in zonal wind intensity occurred at the end of the Paleocene. These late Paleocene climatic changes (bottom water warming and decreased wind intensity) correspond with evidence for an important global tectonic reorganization and extensive subaerial volcanism, which may have contributed to climatic warming through increased supply of CO2.
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