Neotethys seawater chemistry and temperature at the dawn of the end Permian mass extinction

The end of the Permian was a time of great death and massive upheaval in the biosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere. Over the last decades, many causes have been suggested to be responsible for that catastrophe such as global warming, anoxia and acidification. The Gyanyima limestone block was an open ocean seamount in the southern Neotethys at subtropical latitude, and it affords us insight into open-ocean oceanographic changes during the end of the Permian. After careful screening using multiple tests, we reconstructed carbonate/seawater curves from the geochemical data stored in pristine brachiopod shell archives from the shallow water limestone of the Changhsingian Gyanyima Formation of Tibet. The reconstructed strontium isotope curve and data for the late Changhsingian are relatively invariant about 0.707013, but in the upper part of the succession the values become more radiogenic climaxing at about 0.707244. The 87Sr/86Sr curve and trend are similar to those observed for the Upper Permian succession in northern Italy, but dissimilar (less radiogenic) to whole rock results from Austria, Iran, China and Spitsbergen. The Ce/Ce* anomaly results ranging from 0.310 to 0.577 for the brachiopods and from 0.237 to 0.655 for the coeval whole rock before the event, and of 0.276 for whole rock during the extinction event, suggest normal redox conditions. These Ce* values are typical of normal open-ocean oxic water quality conditions observed in modern and other ancient counterparts. The biota and Ce* information clearly discounts global anoxia as a primary cause for the end-Permian biotic crisis. Carbon isotopes from brachiopod shells and whole rock are relatively invariant for most of the latest Permian interval, which is in stark contrast to the distinct negative carbon isotope excursion observed near and about the event. Estimates of seawater temperature at shallow depth fluctuated from 22.2 to 29.0 °C up to unit 8–2, and then gradually rise from 29.7 °C in unit 8–13 to values exceeding 35 °C at a stratigraphic level about 120 ky before the Permian–Triassic boundary, and just before the onset of the extinction interval. This dramatic increase in seawater temperature has been observed in global successions from tropical to mid latitude and from restricted to open ocean localities (e.g., northern Italy, Iran). The brachiopod archive and its geochemical proxies from Tibet support the paradigm that global warming must have been an important factor of the biotic crisis for the terrestrial and marine faunas and floras of the late Paleozoic world.

Garbelli C., Angiolini L., Brand U., Shen S.-z., Jadoul F., Posenato R., Azmy K. & Cao C.-q., 2016. Neotethys seawater chemistry and temperature at the dawn of the end Permian mass extinction. Gondwana Research 35:272–285. Article (subscription required).

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