Deciphering Complex Carbon Cycle Changes Across the K-Pg Boundary Using Compound-Specific Carbon Isotopic Analyses

Friday, 19 December 2014: 4:00 PM
Richard D Pancost1, Kyle W Taylor1, Chris J Hollis2 and Erica M Crouch3, (1)Univ Bristol, Cabot Institute, Bristol, United Kingdom, (2)GNS Science, Lower Hutt, New Zealand, (3)GNS Science, Wellington, New Zealand
The consequences of the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K/Pg) boundary event on the Earth system have been the subject of much scrutiny. Postulated climate events include a brief (10 – 2000 yr) period of global cooling induced by sulphate aerosols (the so-called ‘impact winter’), an interval of warming caused by impact-induced CO2release, as well as longer-term climatic oscillations during the subsequent 1 to 3Myr. Associated with these were putative changes in the biogeochemical cycle, manifested as carbon isotope excursions on both short- and long-term timescales.

In this study we develop new biomarker-based climate and biogeochemical records for the mid-Waipara River and Branch Stream sections, NZ. At Branch Stream, a pronounced negative (ca 6 to 8 permil) carbon isotope excursion occurs at the K/Pg; the excursion is recorded by higher plant biomarkers, consistent with some terrestrial records and suggesting that the immediate aftermath of the K/Pg boundary event was characterised by the massive release of 13C-depleted reduced carbon into the ocean-atmosphere reservoir.

Mixing across the K/Pg boundary at the Waipara section precludes a similar high-resolution investigation. Lower-resolution, longer-term records, however, also reveal a negative carbon istope excursion documented by both algal and higher plant biomarkers. This event appears to be distinct from that recorded at Branch Stream, being of lower magnitude and longer duration. It coincided with a transient terrestrial and marine warming and appears to have lasted at least 100 kyr and perhaps longer. We argue that this protracted negative CIE reflects a secondary and longer-term consequence of the K/Pg on the global carbon cycle. There is little evidence for an algal extinction as a range of C27 to C30 sterols continued to be deposited throughout the entire section, but changes in GDGT distributions do suggest a change in carbon export dynamics which could have impacted burial of 13C-depleted marine organic matter. Alternative explanations for the negative CIE include longer-term oxidation of more recalcitrant reduced carbon pools, i.e. soil organic matter, but that is not documented in the NZ sections.