Integrated Carbonate-organic Carbon and Nitrogen Isotope Variations of the Early Mississippian Strata in the Southern Great Basin, Western United States

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Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology



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The Early Mississippian K-O (Kinderhookian-Osagean) carbon isotope (δ13C) excursion or TICE (mid-Tournaisian carbon isotope excursion) is one of the most prominent positive δ13C excursions of the Phanerozoic. Recent studies raise uncertainties about the representative shape (single vs. double spikes) and magnitude of this δ13C excursion (3‰ to ≥ 6‰ in South China; ≥ 5.5‰ in Europe; and ≥ 7‰ in North America) and the 3‰ unidirectional increase in nitrogen isotopes across the δ13C excursion, which is unanticipated considering the amount of organic carbon burial required to form the δ13C excursion and the resultant oxygen increase and global cooling. To test if stratigraphic completeness and spatial isotope variations caused such uncertainties, we have conducted paired carbonate carbon (δ13Ccarb), organic carbon (δ13Corg) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotope analyses across the K-O interval in two well-exposed sections of the southern Great Basin, western United States. The two sections represent proximal shallow-water and distal deep-water depositional settings of a west-dipping carbonate ramp. In the distal ramp section where no exposure surface is present, both δ13Ccarb and δ13Corg show double spikes with peak δ13Ccarb values up to 7‰ and a negative shift down to 4‰ between the peaks. In the proximal shallower-water section where two karstic disconformities are observed, δ13Corg shows similar double spikes but δ13Ccarb displays only a single peak with the highest value of 5.5‰. The missing δ13Ccarb spike is likely caused by diagenetic alteration below a karstic disconformity that lowered δ13Ccarb but not δ13Corg values, resulting in smaller magnitude of the δ13Ccarb excursion. These features suggest that the 7‰ magnitude and double spikes are more representative of the K-O δ13C excursion in the southern Great Basin. The smaller magnitude of the K-O δ13Ccarb excursion in some sections of the Great Basin and the TICE in other sections globally may have overprinted with local environmental/diagenetic signal or resulted from stratigraphic hiatus/truncation, which needs to be clarified in future research. The δ15N across the K-O δ13C excursion in the distal ramp section is decoupled from δ13C, with the majority of δ15N values around 4 ± 1‰ that do not show any obvious temporal trend. In contrast, δ15N values in the shallow-water section is coupled with the K-O δ13C excursion, with a 3‰ positive shift from 4‰ to 7‰ at the rising limb of the δ13C excursion and a negative shift from 7‰ to 1–2‰ at the falling limb of the δ13C excursion. The δ15N trend from the distal ramp section is, in some extent, comparable with that documented from a section in South China, while the coupled δ13C–δ15N pattern in the proximal section seems better explain the potential redox change across a prominent δ13C excursion. Considering the sensitivity of δ15N to redox conditions of depositional environments, a more comprehensive δ15N study in a broader paleogeographic context is required to better understand the interactions between carbon and nitrogen cycles across the K-O interval—a critical transition from the mid-Paleozoic greenhouse clime to Late Paleozoic Ice Age (LPIA).


Carboniferous, Tournaisian, Kinderhookian-Osagean, Pahranagat Range, Mountain Home, Southern Nevada, Western Utah



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