Assessing the primary nature of the Ediacaran δ13C record
Abstract:Neoproterozoic large negative carbon isotope excursions remain an enigmatic feature of the long-term carbon isotopic record yet their temporal distribution predating the appearance and diversification of complex animals in the fossil record demands an improved understanding of their origin. There is considerable uncertainty on whether these extreme excursions reflect primary perturbations in marine DIC, or whether they are post-depositional features. A variety of diagenetic processes have been proposed to generate the observed record including mechanisms relating to sea level drawdown, burial diagenesis in the presence of hydrocarbons and precipitation of authigenic carbonates. We examine perplexing aspects of the largest negative excursion on record—the Ediacaran Shuram Excursion—including: (1) co-variation in δ13C and δ18O carbonate, (2) elevated trace metal signatures, and (3) its global distribution.
We combine bulk and micro-scale analysis of isotopic composition using carbonate clumped isotope thermometry and SIMS, and trace metal enrichments using ICP-OES, XANES and electron microprobe measurements. We find there is little evidence for large-scale isotopic re-ordering associated with open system diagenesis. Instead the bulk of the δ18Omin trend can be explained by a two-step change caused by 1) a temperature increase and fluid composition change from enriched evaporative fluids to open marine fluids and 2) a mineralogical shift from dolomite to calcite. The excursion is correlated with an increase in fine-grained, poorly-weathered detrital sediment that accounts for the majority of the increase in bulk trace metal enrichment. Additionally, SIMS analysis indicates there is no difference in the δ13C of authigenic phases versus primary carbonate phases suggesting the δ13C of the fluid was not modified during burial. These results suggest the combined influences of pH, temperature and carbonate mineralogy (calcite vs. aragonite) on the isotopic fractionation between DIC and precipitated carbonate minerals could be a key component of the carbon isotope excursion.