Indications for control of the Iceland plume on the Eocene-Oligocene "greenhouse-icehouse" climate transition

Meir Abelson*, Amotz Agnon, Ahuva Almogi-Labin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


The Eocene/Oligocene boundary, at about 33.5 Myr ago, marks the transition from 'greenhouse-' to 'icehouse-world', accompanied by a sudden cooling of ocean bottom-water. We show that this global event is simultaneous with a deep rooted mantle process: an abrupt suppression of the Iceland plume triggered rapid deepening of the Greenland-Scotland Ridge (GSR) - the sill moderating deep circulation between the Nordic seas and North Atlantic. Striking coincidence of several sets of events reflects the abrupt suppression of the Iceland plume and a rapid removal of its influence on the nearby Reykjanes Ridge (RR): 1) A sudden segmentation of the paleo-RR seen on seafloor magnetic anomalies, 2) a drop in spreading rate of the North Atlantic, 3) a transition from thick to normal oceanic crust, and 4) a rapid deepening and accelerated subsidence of the GSR, inferred from the sedimentary record of DSDP site 336. The plume suppression and the concomitant GSR deepening coincide with the initiation of North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) at the Eocene/Oligocene (E/O) transition, attested by onset of drift sedimentation in the Faroe-Shetland Channel (FSC), the deepest spill-point on the GSR, and in the North Atlantic, the Feni Drift. These processes have influenced global deepwater composition and temperature as indicated by the striking correlation with the jump in global δ18O (> 1‰) measured on benthic foraminifers that reflects the E/O global cooling, and with enrichment of unradiogenic Nd isotopes in the southeastern Atlantic and Southern Ocean. The initiation of Atlantic thermohaline circulation at that time is inferred from the abrupt split between planktonic and benthic δ18O, indicating the building of ocean-water stratification. This scenario is further corroborated by a reversal in benthic δ18O at the late Oligocene, coincident with the renewal of vigorous Iceland plume some 25 Myr ago, causing a considerable retardation in NADW fluxes. The plume renewal is inferred from the emergence of the Iceland plateau, the transition to oblique-unsegmented RR axis, the cessation in deepening of the GSR, and rapid increase in spreading rate of the North Atlantic. These events coincide with decreasing difference in planktonic-benthic in global δ18O by the late Oligocene. All these inferences suggest the role of the NADW sourced at the Nordic seas to form background cooler conditions in the long time scale since the early Oligocene, or to form permanent conditions of invigorated thermohaline circulation that forces CO2 trap in the oceans.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)33-48
Number of pages16
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 15 Jan 2008


  • Eocene-Oligocene cooling
  • Greenland-Scotland Ridge
  • Iceland plume
  • North Atlantic Deep Water
  • North Atlantic magnetic anomalies
  • Reykjanes Ridge
  • thermohaline circulation


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