Subboreal aridity and scytonemin in the Holocene Black Sea

James M. Fulton, Michael A. Arthur, Katherine H. Freeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Many species of cyanobacteria tolerate exposure to harmful levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation by producing photoprotective pigments. Scytonemin, found in extracellular polysaccharide sheaths, is produced in abundance when terrestrial or benthic cyanobacteria are exposed to direct sunlight, such as in desert soil crusts and intertidal mats. It is exclusive to cyanobacteria and therefore can serve as a diagnostic biomarker, particularly for UV-exposure growth conditions. Here we report that it is preserved in abundance in mid-Holocene sedimentary intervals in the Black Sea, a novel deep sea occurrence that demonstrates that scytonemin is resistant to degradation during erosion and transport. C and N isotopic compositions support the interpretation that scytonemin was derived from cyanobacteria in cryptobiotic desert soil, suggestive of expanding aridity during the Subboreal Phase in the Black Sea region. Scytonemin has potential for preservation in black shales, where it may serve as an important biomarker for tracing the evolution and expansion of cyanobacterial populations, especially in association with elevated UV stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-55
Number of pages9
JournalOrganic Geochemistry
StatePublished - Aug 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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