Pulse of atmospheric oxygen during the late Cambrian

Matthew R. Saltzman, Seth A. Young, Lee R. Kump, Benjamin C. Gill, Timothy W. Lyons, Bruce Runnegar

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A rise in atmospheric O2 has been linked to the Cambrian explosion of life. For the plankton and animal radiation that began some 40 million yr later and continued through much of the Ordovician (Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event), the search for an environmental trigger(s) has remained elusive. Here we present a carbon and sulfur isotope mass balance model for the latest Cambrian time interval spanning the globally recognized Steptoean Positive Carbon Isotope Excursion (SPICE) that indicates a major increase in atmospheric O2. We estimate that this organic carbon and pyrite burial event added approximately 19 x 1018 moles of O 2 to the atmosphere (i.e., equal to change from an initial starting point for O2 between 10-18% to a peak of 20-28% O2) beginning at approximately 500 million years. We further report on new paired carbon isotope results from carbonate and organic matter through the SPICE in North America, Australia, and China that reveal an approximately 2‰ increase in biological fractionation, also consistent with a major increase in atmospheric O2. The SPICE is followed by an increase in plankton diversity that may relate to changes in macro- and micronutrient abundances in increasingly oxic marine environments, representing a critical initial step in the trophic chain. Ecologically diverse plankton groups could provide new food sources for an animal biota expanding into progressively more ventilated marine habitats during the Ordovician, ultimately establishing complex ecosystems that are a hallmark of the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3876-3881
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number10
StatePublished - Mar 8 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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