1932

Abstract

Developments in plant physiology since the 1980s have led to the realization that fossil plants archive both the isotopic composition of atmospheric CO and its concentration, both critical integrators of carbon cycle processes through geologic time. These two carbon cycle signals can be read by analyzing the stable carbon isotope composition (δ13C) of fossilized terrestrial organic matter and by determining the stomatal characters of well-preserved fossil leaves, respectively. We critically evaluate the use of fossil plants in this way at abrupt climatic boundaries associated with mass extinctions and during times of extreme global warmth. Particular emphasis is placed on evaluating the potential to extract a quantitative estimate of the δ13C of atmospheric CO because of the key role it plays in understanding the carbon cycle. We critically discuss the use of stomatal index and stomatal ratios for reconstructing atmospheric CO levels, especially the need for adequate replication, and present a newly derived CO record for the Mesozoic that supports levels calculated from geochemical modeling of the long-term carbon cycle. Several suggestions for future research using stable carbon isotope analyses of fossil terrestrial organic matter and stomatal measurements are highlighted.

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/content/journals/10.1146/annurev.earth.30.091201.141413
2002-05-01
2024-04-24
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  • Article Type: Review Article
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