Carbon cycling and mass extinctions: the Permo-Triassic of the Arabian Margin
Clarkson, Matthew Oliver
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The end-Permian extinction at 252 Ma is widely regarded as the most severe of the Phanerozoic mass-extinctions and enabled the evolution of the modern carbon cycle and ecosystem structure. The cause of the extinction is still debated but the synergistic pressures of global climate change, such as anoxia and ocean acidification, were clearly important. The extinction occurred in two phases and is marked by a uniquely protracted recovery period of ~ 5 Myrs where diversity fails to reach pre-extinction levels until the Middle Triassic. This period is characterized by an unstable global carbon cycle, secondary extinctions, reef, chert and coal gaps, and changes in the carbonate factory from reef to microbial and abiotic dominated deposition. This thesis focuses on using geochemical data from the Arabian Margin to investigate the carbon cycle record and the links between kill mechanisms and carbon cycle dynamics. A new record of carbon cycling is presented for the Tethys in the form of a carbon isotope record for the entire Early Triassic from the Musandam Peninsula, United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Musandam carbon isotope record can be broadly correlated with global isotopic events but also resolves additional secondary excursions. These new short-lived events are probably related to the occurrence of the more widely recognized Early Triassic excursions, and may represent fluctuations in the driving mechanisms superimposed on the continued instability of the global carbon cycle in the aftermath of the end-Permian extinction. To unravel palaeo-depositional redox conditions this work utilizes geochemical proxies based on Fe systematics (Fe-speciation). To date, however, these proxies have only been calibrated in relation to modern and ancient siliciclastic marine sediments. This clearly limits the use of the Fe-speciation proxy, particularly in relation to carbonate-rich sediments and rocks. This thesis explores the use of Fe-speciation in carbonates using compiled literature and new data from modern oxic and anoxic settings. This new assessment expands the utility of Fe-based redox proxies to also incorporate carbonate-rich rocks that contain significant total Fe (>0.5 wt%), providing care is taken to assess possible impacts of diagenetic processes such as dolomitization. Based on this calibration work Fe-speciation is used to reconstruct the redox structure for the Arabian Margin mixed carbonate and clastic sediments, from the late Permian to the Middle Triassic. Fe-S-C systematics are utilized to identify the spatial and temporal dynamics of anoxia for a Neo-Tethyan shelf-to-basin transect. The unique spatial resolution afforded by this transect allows a direct link to be drawn between biodiversity, carbon cycling and anoxic events. For the first time we can directly observe a switch from deep-ocean dominated anoxia to a dynamic anoxic wedge at the end-Permian extinction. Additionally the data suggest that ferruginous conditions (anoxic non-sulphidic) were dominant in the Tethyan Ocean throughout the Early Triassic, proposing that euxinia was restricted regionally with potential implications for nutrient recycling, carbon cycle models and driving mechanisms. Redox dynamics may have had important implications for the wider carbonate cycle. These two themes are particularly inter-related with regards to oceanic alkalinity and pH. This thesis presents the first shallow water boron isotope record for the Permian Triasssic Boundary, used as a proxy for pH. The record demonstrates some unexpected results; firstly a sudden increase in pH is observed, prior to the first phase of the extinction and interpreted to reflect alkalinity supply from the development of slope anoxia. Secondly there is no evidence for an acidification event at the first phase of the extinction where pH remains stable. A rapid acidification event is, however, seen in the earliest Triassic, contemporary to the second phase of the mass extinction, but delayed compared to the main negative carbon isotope excursion that indicates the main phase of Siberian Trap volcanism. These events may be explained by dramatic changes in ocean the ocean’s buffering capacity linked to changes in alkalinity supply and the carbonate factory.