Obliquity-forced aquifer-eustasy during the Late Cretaceous greenhouse world

Zhifeng Zhang, Yongjian Huang, Mingsong Li, Xiang Li, Pengcheng Ju, Chengshan Wang

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17 Scopus citations


The mechanisms of short-term (105–106 years) and high-magnitude (>20 m) sea-level oscillations have long been debated involving glacio- and aquifer-eustasy, largely owing to the sparse robust evidence for the presence and significance of aquifer-eustasy, and lack of knowledge about the hydrological dynamics behind it. Non-marine/continental greenhouse archives (e.g., lake level) and their temporal correlation to marine successions (e.g., sea level) could provide clues to aquifer-eustasy. The Songliao Basin (SLB) in Northeast China is one of the largest Mesozoic terrestrial inland basins and provides a terrestrial archive of nearly all Cretaceous successions. The greenhouse late Santonian–early Campanian lower Nenjiang Formation (K2n1+2), recovered from three boreholes in the SLB, provides a unique opportunity for validating and decoding aquifer-eustasy. Initially, the cyclostratigraphy of logging gamma ray (GR) and thorium (Th) series from three boreholes was implemented, which in conjunction with precise geochronological (U/Pb zircon) ages renewed the chronology framework of the SLB. Using the astronomically tuned GR and Th datasets, the lake level of the SLB, which was recovered from sedimentary noise modeling and presented as a proxy for the water table of the groundwater reservoir, showed a clear out-of-phase relationship with the coeval sea level, validating the aquifer-eustasy hypothesis. The lake level of SLB shows prominent ∼1.2 Myr cycles and a well-coupled relationship with sea level and obliquity modulation, indicating that orbital obliquity drove the lake level and modulated water exchange between ocean and continent during the Cretaceous greenhouse period. Strong precipitation events indicated by negative excursions of ostracod δ18O correlate well with high lake levels, high obliquity, and low sea level, suggesting that more moisture was precipitated into the high-latitude continents during obliquity modulation maxima, consequently recharging the aquifer and raising the lake level while drawing down the sea level and vice versa. The close correlation between the reported marine incursion layers and the lowstand of sea level casts a doubt on the marine incursion hypothesis in the SLB; thus, more work is needed to reconcile this paradox. Overall, this study provides the first robust geological evidence for aquifer-eustasy and decodes its role in Cretaceous short-term eustasy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number117800
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - Oct 15 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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