Uranium isotope evidence for temporary ocean oxygenation in the aftermath of the Sturtian Snowball Earth

Kimberly V. Lau, Francis A. Macdonald, Kate Maher, Jonathan L. Payne

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The appearance and radiation of animals are commonly attributed to Neoproterozoic oceanic oxygenation, yet independent geochemical evidence for such an event remains equivocal. Strata deposited between the Sturtian and Marinoan Snowball Earth glaciations (660 to 640 Ma) contain the earliest animal biomarkers and possible body fossils. To quantify the extent of seafloor oxygenation during this critical interval, we present uranium isotope ratios (238U/235U denoted as δ238U) from limestone of the Taishir Formation in Mongolia through two stratigraphic sections that are separated by ∼75 km within the same depositional basin. Above the Sturtian glacial deposits, through ∼150 m of stratigraphy, δ238U compositions have a mean value of −0.47‰. This interval is followed by a ∼0.3‰ decrease in δ238U, coincident with the Taishir negative carbon isotope excursion. Thereafter, δ238U values remain relatively low until the erosional unconformity at the base of the Marinoan glacial deposits. Using a box model, we show that the best explanation for the higher δ238U values of the post-Sturtian limestones is extensive—but temporary—oxygenation of the seafloor, and is inconsistent with a scenario involving only increased delivery of uranium to the oceans due to post-Snowball weathering. The decline in δ238U in overlying strata, coincident with the Taishir negative δ13C excursion, indicates a subsequent decrease in seafloor oxygenation. The U isotopic data, combined with modeling results, challenge the notion of a simple, unidirectional oxygenation of Neoproterozoic oceans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)282-292
Number of pages11
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - Jan 15 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


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