The global carbon cycle controls the climate change in the Earth's environment on a geological timescale and is mainly associated with greenhouse effects produced by atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2
) and methane (CH4
). This paper reviews the relationship between the global carbon cycle and presumed climate events during the Cenozoic.
The global carbon cycle is primarily regulated by the balance between weathering and metamorphism-volcanism. Moreover, the organic carbon subcycle involving oxidative weathering and burial is of secondary importance. The balance of these geochemical processes results in variations of atmospheric CO2
The past climate on a geological time scale is reconstructed by several geochemical and paleontological methods or proxies. For example, sea-surface and deep-water temperature are deduced from oxygen isotope ratio and Mg/Ca ratio of foraminiferal tests. Terrestrial atmospheric temperature is estimated from leaf fossil and paleovegetation. Atmospheric CO2
level is calculated from carbon isotope ratios of phytoplankton and soil carbonate, stomatal density of leaf fossil, boron isotope ratio of foraminiferal test, Ce anomaly, and global carbon cycle modeling. It is important to consider their advantages and disadvantages in order to evaluate the paleoclimate adequately.
Next, we discuss climate change based on these proxies. As a general trend, the Cenozoic climate change is characterized by a transition from ice-free to ice-covered conditions across the Eocene/Oligocene boundary. The Earth's surface environment was significantly warmed from the Paleocene to the Eocene by high levels of atmospheric CO2
. Thereafter, it gradually cooled towards the present, which is possibly attributed to changes in ocean currents and other marine environments accompanying continental drift. This trend has been punctuated by several short-term climate events. The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) was a remarkable warming event at the Paleocene/Eocene boundary, possibly attributed to the release of methane from hydrates into the atmosphere. Rapid cooling occurred at the Eocene/Oligocene boundary to form extensive continental ice sheets including the Antarctica, which seems to have been caused by atmospheric CO2
and change of oceanographic circulation and marine environment. After a moderate period from the late Oligocene to the early Miocene, there was a transient but significant warming in the middle Miocene. Since then, the Earth's environment has gradually cooled towards the present accompanied by the evolution of glaciations and marine environmental changes but a causal link between cooling and global carbon cycle has recently been pointed out. Although the carbon cycle including atmospheric CO2
cannot explain all of the global climate changes in Cenozoic, it has undoubtedly played a dominant role on the Earth's climate.