Evidence for local and global redox conditions at an Early Ordovician (Tremadocian) mass extinction

Cole T. Edwards, David A. Fike, Matthew R. Saltzman, Wanyi Lu, Zunli Lu

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41 Scopus citations


Profound changes in environmental conditions, particularly atmospheric oxygen levels, are thought to be important drivers of several major biotic events (e.g. mass extinctions and diversifications). The early Paleozoic represents a key interval in the oxygenation of the ocean–atmosphere system and evolution of the biosphere. Global proxies (e.g. carbon (δ13C) and sulfur (δ34S) isotopes) are used to diagnose potential changes in oxygenation and infer causes of environmental change and biotic turnover. The Cambrian–Ordovician contains several trilobite extinctions (some are apparently local, but others are globally correlative) that are attributed to anoxia based on coeval positive δ13C and δ34S excursions. These extinction and excursion events have yet to be coupled with more recently developed proxies thought to be more reflective of local redox conditions in the water column (e.g. I/Ca) to confirm whether these extinctions were associated with oxygen crises over a regional or global scale. Here we examine an Early Ordovician (Tremadocian Stage) extinction event previously interpreted to reflect a continuation of recurrent early Paleozoic anoxic events that expanded into nearshore environments. δ13C, δ34S, and I/Ca trends were measured from three sections in the Great Basin region to test whether I/Ca trends support the notion that anoxia was locally present in the water column along the Laurentian margin. Evidence for anoxia is based on coincident, but not always synchronous, positive δ13C and δ34S excursions (mainly from carbonate-associated sulfate and less so from pyrite data), a 30% extinction of standing generic diversity, and near-zero I/Ca values. Although evidence for local water column anoxia from the I/Ca proxy broadly agrees with intervals of global anoxia inferred from δ13C and δ34S trends, a more complex picture is evident where spatially and temporally variable local trends are superimposed on time-averaged global trends. Stratigraphic sections from the distal and deeper part of the basin (Shingle Pass and Meiklejohn Peak) preserve synchronous global (δ13C and δ34S) and water column (I/Ca) evidence for anoxia, but not at the more proximal section (Ibex, UT). Although geochemical and paleontological evidence point toward anoxia as the driver of this Early Ordovician extinction event, differences between I/Ca and δ13C–δ34S signals suggest regional variation in the timing, extent, and persistence of anoxia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-135
Number of pages11
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • I/Ca
  • Ordovician
  • anoxia
  • carbon isotopes
  • extinction
  • sulfur isotopes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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