The standard paradigm that the Paleocene/Eocene thermal maximum (PETM) represents a threshold event intrinsic to Earth's climate and connected in some way with long-term warming has influenced interpretations of the geochemical, climate, and biological perturbations that occurred at this event. As recent high-resolution data have demonstrated that the onset of the event was geologically instantaneous, attempts to account for the event solely through endogenous mechanisms have become increasingly strained. The rapid onset of the event indicates that it was triggered by a catastrophic event which we suggest was most likely a bolide impact. We discuss features of the PETM that require explanation and argue that mechanisms that have previously been proposed either cannot explain all of these features or would require some sort of high-energy trigger. A bolide impact could provide such a trigger and, in the event of a comet impact, could contribute directly to the shape of the carbon isotope curve. We introduce a carbon cycle model that would explain the PETM by global warming following a bolide impact, leading to the oxidation of terrestrial organic carbon stores built up during the late Paleocene. Our intention is to encourage other researchers to seriously consider an impact trigger for the PETM, especially in the absence of plausible alternative mechanisms. (c) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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