Research ArticleGEOCHEMISTRY

An enormous sulfur isotope excursion indicates marine anoxia during the end-Triassic mass extinction

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Science Advances  09 Sep 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 37, eabb6704
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abb6704

Abstract

The role of ocean anoxia as a cause of the end-Triassic marine mass extinction is widely debated. Here, we present carbonate-associated sulfate δ34S data from sections spanning the Late Triassic–Early Jurassic transition, which document synchronous large positive excursions on a global scale occurring in ~50 thousand years. Biogeochemical modeling demonstrates that this S isotope perturbation is best explained by a fivefold increase in global pyrite burial, consistent with large-scale development of marine anoxia on the Panthalassa margin and northwest European shelf. This pyrite burial event coincides with the loss of Triassic taxa seen in the studied sections. Modeling results also indicate that the pre-event ocean sulfate concentration was low (<1 millimolar), a common feature of many Phanerozoic deoxygenation events. We propose that sulfate scarcity preconditions oceans for the development of anoxia during rapid warming events by increasing the benthic methane flux and the resulting bottom-water oxygen demand.

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