Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Geoscience



First Committee Member

Ganquig Jiang, Chair

Second Committee Member

Matthew Lachniet

Third Committee Member

Rodney Metcalf

Graduate Faculty Representative

Peter Starkweather

Number of Pages



Geochemical models have suggested that the late Cambrian was characterized by a greenhouse climate with high pCO2. Furthermore, stableisotope analyses within the Great Basin have documented a large carbonate isotope (δ13Ccarb) excursion, known as the Steptoean Positive Carbon Isotope Excursion (SPICE). This event has been documented globally, and is interpreted as having resulted from enhanced organic carbon burial. Unless the size of carbon reservoirs in the Cambrian ocean was significantly different from those of the Cenozoic, this forcing should have resulted in a comparable carbon-isotope excursion in organic matter (δ13Corg). It is also predicted that increased organic carbon burial would lower atmospheric CO2, which may cause global cooling and a reduction in carbonate-organic carbon isotope fractionation. To test these predictions, paired carbonate and organic carbon isotope data are reported here from carbonate stratigraphic sections at Shingle Pass, Nevada and in House Range, Utah. At Shingle Pass, δ 13Corg values record a positive excursion that roughly mirrors δ 13Ccarb values at a similar magnitude, suggesting an oceanographic control on the carbon isotope trend. In the House Range section, although δ 13Corg values show a rough positive shift associated with positive δ13Ccarb, the magnitude is smaller and values show minor shifts across the excursion. However, constructing a time-equivalent overlay of data from both sections using key stratigraphic boundaries resolved apparent discrepancies, suggesting a regional control on carbon isotopic fractionation. The difference between carbonate and organic carbon isotope values (Δ13C = δ13Ccarb – δ13Corg) averages 27‰ to 28‰ in both sections, but increases to 30‰ at the peak of the excursion and falls to as low as 25‰ immediately after the Sauk II/III sequence boundary. Temporal variations in Δ13C do not follow the predicted atmospheric CO2 changes before the δ13Ccarb peak of the SPICE, as might have been derived from the increased organic carbon burial model for the origin of the SPICE event, and indicates that the carbon isotope fractionation was less sensitive to atmospheric CO2 changes when ambient CO2 was high. The abrupt drop in Δ13C after the δ13Ccarb peak of the SPICE is consistent with low atmospheric CO2 and the potential evolution of photosynthetic organisms in adapting to CO2-limited environments with stronger bicarbonate uptake during carbon fixation.


Cambrian Geologic Period; Carbon – Isotopes; Chemostratigraphy; Fractionation; Great Basin; Paleoclimatology; SPICE event; Steptoean Positive Carbon Isotope Excursion; United States – Great Basin


Biogeochemistry | Geochemistry | Geology

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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