Dissolution, ocean acidification and biotic extinctions prior to the Cretaceous / Paleogene (K/PG) boundary in the tropical Pacific

The several million years preceding the Cretaceous/Paleogene (K/Pg) boundary has been the focus of many studies. Changes in ocean circulation and sea level, extinctions, and major volcanic events have all been documented for this interval. Important research questions these changes raise include the climate dynamics during the warm, but not hot, time after the decay of the Late Cretaceous greenhouse interval and the stability of ecosystems prior to the mass extinctions at the end-Cretaceous.

I document several biotic perturbations as well as changes in ocean circulation during the Maastrichtian stage of the latest Cretaceous that question whether the biosphere was being preconditioned for the end-Cretaceous extinction. The first event at Shatsky Rise in the tropical North Pacific was the brief acme of inoceramid clams at ~71 Ma, followed by their abrupt extinction during the “mid-Maastrichtian event” at 70.1 Ma. The second is an intriguing dissolution event that began ~67.8 Ma at Ocean Drilling Program Site 1209 (2387 m). The dissolution event is marked by very poor planktic foraminiferal preservation and sharply reduced calcareous plankton diversity. The shift into the dissolution interval was initially gradual, then rapid. Within the late Maastrichtian dissolution interval, the planktic/benthic (P/B) ratio is low, planktic foraminifera are highly fragmented, larger taxa are mostly absent, small taxa are relatively abundant, and planktic foraminifera and nannofossil species richness are low. The event is followed by an abrupt recovery in carbonate preservation ~300 kyr prior to the K/Pg boundary. Was the dissolution event caused by a change in deep water circulation, migration of the site out of the high productivity tropical belt, or ocean acidification associated with Deccan Traps volcanism? Our data show that changing deep water masses, coupled with reduced productivity and associated decrease in pelagic carbonate flux was responsible for the dissolution interval, while Deccan Traps volcanism may have caused surface ocean acidification ~200-kyr prior to the K/Pg mass extinction event.

Dameron S., 2015. Dissolution, ocean acidification and biotic extinctions prior to the Cretaceous / Paleogene (K/PG) boundary in the tropical Pacific. MSc thesis, University of Massachusetts – Amherst, 87 pp. Thesis.

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