Uppermost Triassic phosphorites from Williston Lake, Canada: link to fluctuating euxinic-anoxic conditions in northeastern Panthalassa before the end-Triassic mass extinction

Ekaterina Larina, David J. Bottjer, Frank A. Corsetti, John Paul Zonneveld, Aaron J. Celestian, Jake V. Bailey

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The end-Triassic mass extinction (ETE) is associated with a rise in CO2 due to eruptions of the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP), and had a particularly dramatic effect on the Modern Fauna, so an understanding of the conditions that led to the ETE has relevance to current rising CO2 levels. Here, we report multiple phosphorite deposits in strata that immediately precede the ETE at Williston Lake, Canada, which allow the paleoenvironmental conditions leading up to the mass extinction to be investigated. The predominance of phosphatic coated grains within phoshorites indicates reworking in shallow water environments. Raman spectroscopy reveals that the phosphorites contain organic carbon, and petrographic and scanning electron microscopic analyses reveal that the phosphorites contain putative microfossils, potentially suggesting microbial involvement in a direct or indirect way. Thus, we favor a mechanism of phosphogenesis that involves microbial polyphosphate metabolism in which phosphatic deposits typically form at the interface of euxinic/anoxic and oxic conditions. When combined with data from deeper water deposits (Kennecott Point) far to the southwest, it would appear a very broad area of northeastern Panthalassa experienced anoxic to euxinic bottom water conditions in the direct lead up to the end-Triassic mass extinction. Such a scenario implies expansion and shallowing of the oxygen minimum zone across a very broad area of northeastern Panthalassa, which potentially created a stressful environment for benthic metazoan communities. Studies of the pre-extinction interval from different sites across the globe are required to resolve the chronology and spatial distribution of processes that governed before the major environmental collapse that caused the ETE. Results from this study demonstrate that fluctuating anoxic and euxinic conditions could have been potentially responsible for reduced ecosystem stability before the onset of CAMP volcanism, at least at the regional scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number18790
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to Nick Rollins and Thomas Orvis for SEM assistance. This research was funded by the NSF Earth-Life Transitions (ELT) program (EAR-1338329) to FC and DB, an NSERC Discovery Grant to JPZ and by grants to EL from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), Geological Society of America (GSA), Society for Sedimentary Geology (SEPM) and a USC Research Enhancement Fellowship. AJC acknowledges support from the NHMLA Trelawney Endowment. We would also like to thank two anonynous reviewers for the constructive comments that improved this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, The Author(s).


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