The Cenomanian-Turonian Oceanic Anoxic Event, I. Stratigraphy and distribution of organic carbon-rich beds and the marine δ13C excursion

S. O. Schlanger, M. A. Arthur, H. C. Jenkyns, P. A. Scholle

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Marine strata deposited during late Cenomanian and early Turonian time display lithological, faunal, and geochemical characteristics which indicate that significant parts of the world ocean were periodically oxygen deficient. At, or very close to, the Cenomanian-Turonian boundary, between 90.5 and 91.5 million years ago, oxygen deficiencies were particularly marked over a period of less than 1 my. This short-lived episode of oceanic oxygen deficiency has been termed the Cenomanian-Turonian 'Oceanic Anoxic Event' (OAE). Marine sediments deposited during this event are, when compared with most of the Phanerozoic record, uncommonly rich in dark-grey to black, pyritic, laminated shales with total organic carbon contents that range from between 1 and 2% to greater than 20% which is largely of marine planktonic origin. The general lack of bioturbation in these beds is taken to indicate an absence of a burrowing fauna due to anoxic conditions. In coeval pelagic and shelf limestone sections the dark shales may be lacking; in such sections the Cenomanian-Turonian boundary is marked by δ 13C values of up to +4.0‰ or + 5.0‰ in contrast to δ 13C values of +2.0‰ to +3.0‰ in limestones directly above and below the boundary. The high δ 13C values are taken to indicate an enrichment of the global ocean in 13C values as a result of the preferential extraction of 12C by marine plankton, the organic components of which were not recycled back to the oceanic reservoir during this period of enhanced organic-carbon burial. In many basins benthonic foraminiferal faunas are lacking in strata at or near the Cenomanian-Turonian boundary or consist of depauperate agglutinate faunas whereas diverse planktonic foraminiferal faunas and radiolarian remains are locally abundant. These zones free of benthonic foraminifera have been previously interpreted as the result of bottom-water oxygen deficiencies. A correlation between high positive δ 13C values and manganese enrichment in shelf chalks has been pointed out by other workers; data presented here substantiates this correlation. Sediments that display one or more of the above characteristics have been studied and identified from diverse basinal settings such as Pacific Basin mid-ocean plateaus, North American cratonic interior seaways, European shelf and interior seaways, circum-African embayments and seaways, Tethyan margins and the Caribbean region. The oxygen-deficient water masses are proposed to have taken the form of an expanded and intensified oxygenminimum zone. Palaeobathymetric interpretation of strata from European and African shelf sequences and sections in the US Western Interior Basin show that shallow embayments, flooded by the rapid Cenomanian-Turonian transgression, were particularly favourable to deposition of anoxic sediments as were the neighbouring shelves and cratonic shallow seaways. The distribution of carbonaceous black shales and coeval light-coloured to red shallow-water limestones marked by a δ 13C 'spike' indicates that the upper surface of the widespread, intensified Cenomanian-Turonian oceanic oxygen-minimum zone was 100 to 200 metres below the surface of the sea in most areas; the lower surface was probably between 1.5 and 2.5 km below sea level. The main phase of the Cenomanian-Turonian OAE as exemplified by the Bonarelli Horizon in the Italian Apennines and the Black Band of Yorkshire and Humberside in England lasted less than 1 my. In some basins where coastal geometry and wind direction were effective in inducing strong upwelling conditions, the propensity for the deposition of carbon-rich facies increased and such facies were deposited in some predicted upwelling zones prior to and following the Cenomanian-Turonian OAE. However, the widespread distribution of anoxic sediments deposited synchronously during such a short-lived event indicates that such sediments are not simply the product of coincidental local climatic or basinal water mass characteristics but are the result of a global expansion and intensification of the Cenomanian-Turonian oxygen-minimum zone related to feedback between sea level rise and regional palaeoceanography. The palaeoceanography of the Cenomanian-Turonian OAE is discussed in detail in a companion paper by Arthur et al. 1987.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-399
Number of pages29
JournalGeological Society Special Publication
StatePublished - Dec 1 1987

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Ocean Engineering
  • Geology


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