Fossil plant stomata indicate decreasing atmospheric CO2


Fossil plant stomata indicate decreasing atmospheric CO2 prior to the Eocene–Oligocene boundary

by Steinthorsdottir M., Porter A. S., Holohan A., Kunzmann L., Collinson M., McElwain J. C. (2016)

Margret Steinthorsdottir, Stock-holm University, Sweden
Amanda S. Porter, University College Dublin, Ireland
Aidan Holohan, University College Dublin, Ireland
Lutz Kunzmann, Senckenberg Natural History Collections Dresden, Germany

Margaret Collinson, Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey, UK

Jennifer C. McElwain, University College Dublin, Ireland

1Department of Geological Sciences and Bolin Centre for Climate Research, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
2School of Biology and Environmental Science, Earth Institute, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Ireland
3Museum of Mineralogy and Geology, Senckenberg Natural History Collections Dresden, Dresden, Germany
4Department of Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey, UK

in Clim. Past, 12, 439-454, 2016 – doi:10.5194/cp-12-439-2016 –


A unique stratigraphic sequence of fossil leaves of Eotrigonobalanus furcinervis (extinct trees of the beech family, Fagaceae) from central Germany has been used to derive an atmospheric pCO2 record with multiple data points spanning the late middle to late Eocene, two sampling levels which may be earliest Oligocene, and two samples from later in the Oligocene.

Using the inverse relationship between the density of stomata and pCO2, we show that pCO2 decreased continuously from the late middle to late Eocene, reaching a relatively stable low value before the end of the Eocene.

Based on the subsequent records, pCO2 in parts of the Oligocene was similar to latest Eocene values.

These results suggest that a decrease in pCO2 preceded the large shift in marine oxygen isotope records that characterizes the Eocene–Oligocene transition and that when a certain threshold of pCO2 change was crossed, the cumulative effects of this and other factors resulted in rapid temperature decline, ice build up on Antarctica and hence a change of climate mode.


Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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