Iron isotope and trace metal records of iron cycling in the proto-North Atlantic during the Cenomanian-Turonian oceanic anoxic event (OAE-2)

Jeremy D. Owens, Timothy W. Lyons, Xiaona Li, Kenneth G. MacLeod, Gwyneth Gordon, Marcel M.M. Kuypers, Ariel Anbar, Wolfgang Kuhnt, Silke Severmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


The global carbon cycle during the mid-Cretaceous (∼125-88 million years ago, Ma) experienced numerous major perturbations linked to increased organic carbon burial under widespread, possibly basin-scale oxygen deficiency and episodes of euxinia (anoxic and H2S-containing). The largest of these episodes, the Cenomanian-Turonian boundary event (ca. 93.5Ma), or oceanic anoxic event (OAE) 2, was marked by pervasive deposition of organic-rich, laminated black shales in deep waters and in some cases across continental shelves. This deposition is recorded in a pronounced positive carbon isotope excursion seen ubiquitously in carbonates and organic matter. Enrichments of redox-sensitive, often bioessential trace metals, including Fe and Mo, indicate major shifts in their biogeochemical cycles under reducing conditions that may be linked to changes in primary production. Iron enrichments and bulk Fe isotope compositions track the sources and sinks of Fe in the proto-North Atlantic at seven localities marked by diverse depositional conditions. Included are an ancestral mid-ocean ridge and euxinic, intermittently euxinic, and oxic settings across varying paleodepths throughout the basin. These data yield evidence for a reactive Fe shuttle that likely delivered Fe from the shallow shelf to the deep ocean basin, as well as (1) hydrothermal sources enhanced by accelerated seafloor spreading or emplacement of large igneous province(s) and (2) local-scale Fe remobilization within the sediment column. This study, the first to explore Fe cycling and enrichment patterns on an ocean scale using iron isotope data, demonstrates the complex processes operating on this scale that can mask simple source-sink relationships. The data imply that the proto-North Atlantic received elevated Fe inputs from several sources (e.g., hydrothermal, shuttle and detrital inputs) and that the redox state of the basin was not exclusively euxinic, suggesting previously unknown heterogeneity in depositional conditions and biogeochemical cycling within those settings during OAE-2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberPA3223
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Palaeontology


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