Geochemical redox proxies indicate that seafloor anoxia occurred during the latest Ordovician glacial maximum, coincident with the second pulse of the Late Ordovician mass extinction. However, expanded anoxia in a glacial climate strikingly contrasts with the warming-associated Mesozoic anoxic events and raises questions as to both the causal mechanism of ocean deoxygenation and its relationship with extinction. Here we firstly report iodine-to-calcium ratio (I/Ca) data that document increased upper-ocean oxygenation despite the concurrent expansion of seafloor anoxia. We then resolve these apparently conflicting observations as well as their relationship to global climate by means of a series of Earth system model simulations. Applying available Late Ordovician (Hirnantian) sea-surface temperature estimates from oxygen isotope studies as constraints, alongside our I/Ca data, leads us to identify a scenario in which Hirnantian glacial conditions permit both the spread of seafloor anoxia and increased upper-ocean oxygenation. Our simulated mechanism of a reorganization of global ocean circulation, with reduced importance of northern-sourced waters and a poorer ventilated and deoxygenated deep ocean has parallels with Pleistocene state transitions in Atlantic meridional overturning (despite a very different continental configuration) and suggests that no simple and predictable relationship between past climate state and oxygenation may exist.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)