Global perturbation of the marine calcium cycle during the Permian-Triassic transition

A negative shift in the calcium isotopic composition of marine carbonate rocks spanning the end-Permian extinction horizon in South China has been used to argue for an ocean acidification event coincident with mass extinction. This interpretation has proven controversial, both because the excursion has not been demonstrated across multiple, widely separated localities, and because modeling results of coupled carbon and calcium isotope records illustrate that calcium cycle imbalances alone cannot account for the full magnitude of the isotope excursion. Here, we further test potential controls on the Permian-Triassic calcium isotope record by measuring calcium isotope ratios from shallow-marine carbonate successions spanning the Permian-Triassic boundary in Turkey, Italy, and Oman. All measured sections display negative shifts in δ44/40Ca of up to 0.6‰. Consistency in the direction, magnitude, and timing of the calcium isotope excursion across these widely separated localities implies a primary and global δ44/40Ca signature. Based on the results of a coupled box model of the geological carbon and calcium cycles, we interpret the excursion to reflect a series of consequences arising from volcanic CO2 release, including a temporary decrease in seawater δ44/40Ca due to short-lived ocean acidification and a more protracted increase in calcium isotope fractionation associated with a shift toward more primary aragonite in the sediment and, potentially, subsequently elevated carbonate saturation states caused by the persistence of elevated CO2 delivery from volcanism. Locally, changing balances between aragonite and calcite production are sufficient to account for the calcium isotope excursions, but this effect alone does not explain the globally observed negative excursion in the δ13C values of carbonate sediments and organic matter as well. Only a carbon release event and related geochemical consequences are consistent both with calcium and carbon isotope data. The carbon release scenario can also account for oxygen isotope evidence for dramatic and protracted global warming as well as paleontological evidence for the preferential extinction of marine animals most susceptible to acidification, warming, and anoxia.

Silva-Tamayo J. C., Lau K. V., Jost A. B., Payne J. L., Wignall P. B., Newton R. J., Eisenhauer A., Depaolo D. J., Brown S., Maher K., Lehrmann D. J., Altiner D., Yu M., Richoz S. & Paytan A., 2018. Global perturbation of the marine calcium cycle during the Permian-Triassic transition. Geological Society of America Bulletin. Article (subscription required).

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