Oceanic anoxic events and plankton evolution: Biotic response to tectonic forcing during the mid-Cretaceous

R. Mark Leckie, Timothy J. Bralower, Richard Cashman

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777 Scopus citations


Mid-Cretaceous (Barremian-Turonian) plankton preserved in deep-sea marl, organic-rich shale, and pelagic carbonate hold an important record of how the marine biosphere responded to short- and long-term changes in the ocean-climate system. Oceanic anoxic events (OAEs) were short-lived episodes of organic carbon burial that are distinguished by their widespread distribution as discrete beds of black shale and/or pronounced carbon isotopic excursions. OAE1a in the early Aptian (∼120.5 Ma) and OAE2 at the Cenomanian/Turonian boundary (∼93.5 Ma) were global in their distribution and associated with heightened marine productivity. OAE1b spans the Aptian/Albian boundary (∼113-109 Ma) and represents a protracted interval of dysoxia with multiple discrete black shales across parts of Tethys (including Mexico), while OAE1d developed across eastern and western Tethys and in other locales during the latest Albian (∼99.5 Ma). Mineralized plankton experienced accelerated rates of speciation and extinction at or near the major Cretaceous OAEs, and strontium isotopic evidence suggests a possible link to times of rapid oceanic plateau formation and/or increased rates of ridge crest volcanism. Elevated levels of trace metals in OAE1a and OAE2 strata suggest that marine productivity may have been facilitated by increased availability of dissolved iron. The association of plankton turnover and carbon isotopic excursions with each of the major OAEs, despite the variable geographic distribution of black shale accumulation, points to widespread changes in the ocean-climate system. Ocean crust production and hydrothermal activity increased in the late Aptian. Faster spreading rates [and/or increased ridge length] drove a long-term (Albian-early Turonian) rise in sea level and CO2-induced global warming. Changes in ocean circulation, water column stratification, and nutrient partitioning lead to a reorganization of plankton community structure and widespread carbonate (chalk) deposition during the Late Cretaceous. We conclude that there were important linkages between submarine volcanism, plankton evolution, and the cycling of carbon through the marine biosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-1-13-29
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Palaeontology


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