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Azollaevent
FromWikipedia,thefreeencyclopedia

TheAzollaeventoccurredinthemiddleEoceneepoch,[1]around
49millionyearsago,whenbloomsofthefreshwaterfernAzollaarethought
tohavehappenedintheArcticOcean.Astheysanktothestagnantsea
floor,theywereincorporatedintothesedimenttheresultingdrawdownof
carbondioxidehasbeenspeculatedtohavehelpedtransformtheplanet
froma"greenhouseEarth"state,hotenoughforturtlesandpalmtreesto
prosperatthepoles,totheicehouseEarthithasbeensince.

Contents
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2
3
4
5
6
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Geologicalevidenceoftheevent
Azolla
Conditionsencouragingtheevent
Globaleffects
Alternativeexplanations
Economicconsiderations
Seealso
References

ThemodernfernAzollafiliculoides.
Bloomsofarelatedspeciesmayhave
pulledtheEarthintothecurrent
icehouseworld.

Geologicalevidenceoftheevent
InsedimentarylayersthroughouttheArcticbasin,aunit
reachingatleast8minthickness(thebottomofthelongest
corewasnotrecovered,butitmayhavereached20m+)is
discernible.Thisunitconsistsofalternatinglayerssiliceous
clasticlayersrepresentingthebackgroundsedimentationof
planktonicorganisms,usualtomarinesediments,switchwith
millimetrethicklaminationscomprisingfossilisedAzolla
matter.[2]Thisorganicmattercanalsobedetectedintheform
ofagammaradiationspike,thathasbeennotedthroughoutthe
Arcticbasin,makingtheeventausefulaidinliningupcores
drilledatdifferentlocations.Palynologicalcontrolsand
calibrationwiththehighresolutiongeomagneticreversal
recordallowsthedurationoftheeventtobeestimatedat
800,000years.[1]Theeventcoincidespreciselywitha
catastrophicdeclineincarbondioxidelevels,whichfellfrom
3500ppmintheearlyEoceneto650ppmduringthisevent.[3]

18Oaproxyfortemperatureoverthepast65
millionyears.TheAzollaeventmarkstheendof
theEoceneoptimumandthebeginningofalong
termdeclineinglobaltemperatures.

Azolla
Azollahasbeendeemeda"superplant"asitcandrawdownasmuchasatonneofnitrogenperacreperyear[4]
(0.25kg/m/yr)thisismatchedby6tonnesperacreofcarbondrawdown(1.5kg/m/yr).Itsabilitytouse
atmosphericnitrogenforgrowthmeansthatthemainlimittoitsgrowthisusuallytheavailabilityofphosphorus:
carbon,nitrogenandsulphurbeingthreeofthekeyelementsofproteins,andphosphorusbeingrequiredforDNA,1/4
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carbon,nitrogenandsulphurbeingthreeofthekeyelementsofproteins,andphosphorusbeingrequiredforDNA,
RNAandinenergymetabolism.Theplantcangrowatgreatspeedinfavourableconditionsmodestwarmthand
20hoursofsunlight,bothofwhichwereinevidenceatthepolesduringtheearlyEoceneandcandoubleits
biomassovertwotothreedaysinsuchaclimate.[1]

Conditionsencouragingtheevent
DuringtheearlyEocene,thecontinentalconfigurationwassuchthatthe
Arcticseawasalmostentirelycutofffromthewideroceans.Thismeant
thatmixingprovidedtodaybydeepwatercurrentssuchastheGulf
Streamdidnotoccur,leadingtoastratifiedwatercolumnresembling
today'sBlackSea.[5]Hightemperaturesandwindsledtohighevaporation,
increasingthedensityoftheocean,andthroughanincreaseinrainfall[6]
highdischargefromriverswhichfedthebasin.Thislowdensity
freshwaterformedanepheloidlayer,floatingonthesurfaceofthedense
sea.[7]Evenafewcentimetresoffreshwaterwouldbeenoughtoallow
colonizationbyAzollafurther,thisriverwaterwouldberichinminerals
suchasphosphorus,whichitwouldaccumulatefrommudandrocksit
interactedwithasitcrossedthecontinents.Tofurtheraidthegrowthofthe
plant,concentrationsofcarbon(intheformofcarbondioxide)inthe
atmosphereareknowntohavebeenhighatthistime.[3]

Thecontinentalconfigurationduring
theEarlyEoceneresultedinan
isolatedArcticbasin.

Bloomsalonearenotenoughtohaveanygeologicalimpacttopermanently
drawdownCO2andcauseclimatechange,thecarbonmustbesequestered,bytheplantsbeingburiedandthe
remainsrenderedinaccessibletodecomposingorganisms.TheanoxicbottomoftheArcticbasin,aresultofthe
stratifiedwatercolumn,permittedjustthis:theanoxicenvironmentinhibitstheactivityofdecomposingorganisms
andallowstheplantstositunrotteduntiltheyareburiedbysedimentandincorporatedintothefossilrecord.

Globaleffects
With800,000yearsofAzollabloomepisodesanda4,000,000kmbasintocover,evenbyveryconservative
estimatesmorethanenoughcarboncouldbesequesteredbyplantburialtoaccountfortheobserved80%dropin
CO2bythisonephenomenonalone.Itshouldbestressedthatotherfactorsalmostcertainlyplayedarole.This
dropinitiatedtheswitchfromagreenhousetothecurrenticehouseEarththeArcticcooledfromanaveragesea
surfacetemperatureof13Ctotoday's9C,[1]andtherestoftheglobeunderwentasimilarchange.Forperhaps
thefirsttimeinitshistory,[8]theplanethadicecapsatbothofitspoles.Ageologicallyrapiddecreasein
temperaturebetween49and47millionyearsago,aroundtheAzollaevent,isevident:dropstoneswhichare
takenasevidenceforthepresenceofglaciersarecommoninArcticsedimentsthereafter.Thisissetagainsta
backdropofgradual,longtermcooling:itisnotuntil15millionyearsagothatevidenceforwidespreadnorthern
polarfreezingiscommon.[9]

Alternativeexplanations
WhileaverdantArcticOceanisaviableworkingmodel,skepticalscientistspointoutthatitwouldbepossiblefor
AzollacoloniesinriverdeltasorfreshwaterlagoonstobesweptintotheArcticOceanbystrongcurrents,removing
thenecessityforafreshwaterlayer.[9]

Economicconsiderations

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Economicconsiderations
MuchofthecurrentinterestinoilexplorationintheArcticregionsisdirectedtowardstheAzolladeposits.The
burialoflargeamountsoforganicmaterialprovidesthesourcerockforoil,sogiventherightthermalhistory,the
preservedAzollabloomsmighthavebeenconvertedtooilorgas.[10]Aresearchteamhasbeensetupinthe
NetherlandsdevotedtoAzolla.[11]

Azolla
Ediacaran Cambrian Ordovician
Silurian
Devonian Carboniferous
Permian Triassic
Neoproterozoic

Palozoic

600

480

Jurassic

Cretaceous

Mesozoic

360

240

event

Paleogene
Neogene
Quaternary
Cenozoic

120

Millionsofyearsago
AgeofEarth=4,540millionyears(offtotheleft).ComplexlifestartedwiththePalozoic.
The"AgeoftheDinosaurs"wastheMesozoic.Toolusinghumanshaveonlybeenaroundforthelastfew
millionyearsonthefarright.

Seealso
PaleoceneEoceneThermalMaximum

References
1.BrinkhuisH,SchoutenS,CollinsonME,SluijsA,
SinningheDamstJS,DickensGR,HuberM,Cronin
TM,OnoderaJ,TakahashiK,BujakJP,SteinR,van
derBurghJ,EldrettJS,HardingIC,LotterAF,
SangiorgiF,vanKonijnenburgvanCittertH,deLeeuw
JW,MatthiessenJ,BackmanJ,MoranK(2006).
"EpisodicfreshsurfacewatersintheEoceneArctic
Ocean".Nature.441(7093):606609.
doi:10.1038/nature04692.PMID16752440.
2.Waddell,L.M.Moore,T.C.(2008).
doi:10.1029/2007PA001451.Missingorempty|title=
(help)
3.Pearson,P.N.Palmer,M.R.(2000)."Atmospheric
carbondioxideconcentrationsoverthepast60million
years"(PDF).Nature.406(6797):695699.
doi:10.1038/35021000.PMID10963587.Retrieved
20080314.

4.Belnap,J.(2002)."Nitrogenfixationinbiologicalsoil
crustsfromsoutheastUtah,USA"(PDF).Biologyand
FertilityofSoils.35(2):128135.doi:10.1007/s00374
0020452x.Retrieved20071017.
5.Stein,R.(2006)."ThePaleoceneEocene
("Greenhouse")ArcticOceanpaleoenvironment:
Implicationsfromorganiccarbonandbiomarker
records(IODPACEXExpedition302)"(abstract).
GeophysicalResearchAbstracts.8:06718.Retrieved
20071016.
6.Greenwood,D.R.,Basinger,J.F.andSmith,R.Y.2010.
HowwetwastheArcticEocenerainforest?Estimatesof
precipitationfromPaleogeneArcticmacrofloras.
Geology,38(1):1518.(http://Geology,%2038(1):%20
15%20%2018).doi:10.1130/G30218.1(https://dx.doi.o
rg/10.1130%2FG30218.1)

7.Gleason,J.D.Thomas,D.T.Moore,T.C.Blum,J.D.

8.Itisalmostcertainlythefirsttimetheplanethadbipolar

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7.Gleason,J.D.Thomas,D.T.Moore,T.C.Blum,J.D.
Owen,R.M.(2007)."Watercolumnstructureofthe
EoceneArcticOceanfromNdSrisotopeproxiesin
fossilfishdebris"(PDF).Retrieved20071103."The
SrNdisotopicrecordis[...]indicativeofapoorly
mixedoceanandhighlystratifiedwatercolumnwith
anoxicbottomwaters.Astable,"fresh"waterupper
layerwaslikelyapervasivefeatureoftheEoceneArctic
Ocean"

8.Itisalmostcertainlythefirsttimetheplanethadbipolar
glaciationduringthePhanerozoicwhetherornotitwas
presentduringtheNeoproterozoic"Snowballearth"isa
matterofdebate.
9.TimAppenzeller(May2005)."Greatgreennorth".
NationalGeographic.
10.ANDREWC.REVKIN(20041120)."Underallthat
ice,maybeoil".NewYorkTimes.Retrieved
20071017.
11.TheAzollaResearchTeam(http://www.cosis.net/memb
ers/meetings/team.php?team=3246)

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Categories: Eocene EnvironmentoftheArctic PrehistoryoftheArctic Salviniaceae Climatehistory
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