Oceanic ecosystem dynamics during gigantic volcanic episodes: the Ontong Java and Manihiki Plateaus recorded by calcareous nannoplankton

Earth’s volcanic activity introduces environmental stress that biota are forced to survive. There is a general consensus on the role of volcanogenic carbon dioxide increases, and implicit tectonic-igneous events, triggering major climate changes and profound variations in chemical, physical and trophic characteristics of the oceans through the Phanerozoic. Cretaceous geological records indicate conditions of excess atmCO2 (up to 2000-3000 ppm) derived from construction of Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs). In such “high CO2 world” and greenhouse conditions, the deep ocean became depleted of oxygen promoting the accumulation and burial of massive amounts of organic matter; such episodes are recognized as Oceanic Anoxic Events (OAEs) and their geological records merit careful examination of how the Earth system, and Life in particular, can overcome extreme experiments of global change. The Early Aptian (˜ 120 million years ago) OAE1a is a complex example of volcanicCO2-induced environmental stress. There is a general consensus on the causes of this case-history, namely excess CO2 derived from the construction of the Ontong Java-Manihiki LIP. Multi- and inter-disciplinary studies of the OAE1a have pointed out C, O, Os, Sr isotopic anomalies, a biocalcification crisis in pelagic and neritic settings, enhanced fertility and primary productivity, as well as ocean acidification. Available cyclochronology allows high-resolution dating of biotic and environmental fluctuations, providing the precision necessary for understanding the role of volcanogenic CO2 on nannoplankton biocalcification, adaptations, evolutionary innovation and/or extinctions. The reconstructed sequence of volcanogenic CO2 pulses, and perhaps some clathrate melting, triggered a climate change to supergreenhouse conditions, anoxia and ocean acidification. The demise of heavily calcified nannoconids and reduced calcite paleofluxes marks beginning of the pre-OAE1a calcification crisis. Ephemeral coccolith dwarfism and malformation represent adjustments to survive lower pH. Deep-water acidification occurs with a delay of 25-30 thousand years: a dissolution event recording 1 to 2km shallowing of the Calcite Compensation Depth anticipated the onset of anoxic sedimentation. A major acceleration in weathering has been identified in the lowermost part of OAE1a. After acidification-dissolution climax, nannoplankton and carbonate recovery developed over ~160 kyr, under persisting global dysoxia-anoxia. This recovery presumably implies a stasis of the LIP activity and gradual buffering of ocean acidification or a decrease in volcanogenic CO2 emissions and consistently higher CO2 drawdown through Corg burial and/or weathering. Rising CO2 and surface-ocean acidification during OAE1a triggered false extinctions among calcareous nannoplankton. Conversely, a major origination episode starts approximately 1 My before global anoxia and persists through OAE1a and associated acidification. Increasing pCO2 caused complex and species-specific reactions, including production of r-strategist taxa, which, however, secreted dwarf and malformed coccoliths as a strategy to overcome acidification.

Erba, E., 2010. Oceanic ecosystem dynamics during gigantic volcanic episodes: the Ontong Java and Manihiki Plateaus recorded by calcareous nannoplankton. American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2010, abstract #V14B-07. Abstract.

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