On the end-Triassic mass extinction – In Danish

This spring an entire issue of the Danish Geoscience journal Geoviden was dedicated to our research project “The Triassic–Jurassic boundary: Impact of a Large Igneous Province on the geobiosphere”. Geoviden is a popular science magazine aimed at high school students and everyone else interested in geology and geography. Our issue is called “A crisis in the history of life” and  presents the background, hypothesis and progress of our Geocenter Denmark financed project. Unfortunately for non-Scandinavian readers it is in Danish. It is richly illustrated and covers various aspects of our research. It can be downloaded for free using this link, so feel free to check it out: Geoviden No 1 2016: “En krise i livets historie”

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Front page illustration by Stefan Sølberg, GEUS.

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“What lies beneath…”

The Sose Bay area on the Danish island of Bornholm is a beautiful place. Here, the lush greens of the partly forested coastline with its white sandy beaches meets the Baltic Sea, and at the horizon there is nothing but sky.

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Sose Bay in October 2013 (Photo: Lars Henrik Nielsen, GEUS)

Early Jurassic rocks crop out along the coast; the sands and clays still soft after 200 million years, revealing a multitude of sedimentary structures when scraped free of their weathered surfaces.

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Left: a small weathered coastal section. Right: Same section after rinsing. (Photo: Sofie Lindström, GEUS)

 

 

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Wave ripples (Photo: Gunver K. Pedersen, GEUS)

The most continuous sedimentary succession in the coastal cliff is exposed east of Sose Odde. It comprises a c. 24 m thick section including restricted marine, eustarine, lacustrine and fluvial deposits, and was described in detail by Surlyk et a. (1995). The outcropping succession belongs to the Sose Bugt Member of the Rønne Formation, which was assigned a Hettangian–Sinemurian (Early Jurassic) age based on its fossil palynological (spores, pollen, microalgae) content. In 2014, Clemmensen et al. described the presence of steep-walled, flat- to concave-bottomed depressions, with a raised ridge at each side, that were interpreted as dinosaur tracks.

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One of the dinosaur tracks described by Clemmensen et al. (2014). (Phoyo: Sofie Lindström, GEUS)

 

The dinosaur tracks are found in layers interpreted to have been deposited in small streamson a large coastal plain. Clemmensen et al. (2014) suggest that the dinosaurs may have preferred to use shallow channels as paths. The succession also contains thin coal seams and layers penetrated by numerous vertical roots, remnants of 200 million year old vegetation.

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Numerous thin vertical roots penetrating a thick sand layer (Photo: Sofie Lindström, GEUS).

 

So these are the sediments that lie immediately beneath our feet when we walk the fields at Sose Bay, below a thin cover of Quaternary sediments. But what lies beneath? Would sediments deposited before, during and after the end-Triassic mass extinction be present?

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The drill site and equipment (Photo: Gunver K. Pedersen, GEUS).

 

In order to find out, we performed a core drilling in the Sose Bay area, with the aim to reach typical red and green coloured Late Triassic sediments – and hopefully Triassic–Jurassic boundary sediments.We drilled with a core drilling technique that sealed the sedimentary cores in plastic pipes.

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The core catcher brings up a new core (Photo: Gunver K- Pedersen, GEUS).

 

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John Boserup checkes the bottom of a core (Photo: Gunver K. Pedersen, GEUS).

 

By checking the bottom of each pipe when they were brought to the surface, it was possible to see when the red and green Triassic had been reached. At a depth of 110 m below ground, we reached red Triassic sediments.

Trias rødt ler stedvis grønt stedvis sandet

Red and green clay and some sand at the bottom of a core (Photo: Gunver K. Pedersen, GEUS).

 

But because the cores were sealed in red plastic pipes, we still had no idea how complete the drilled succession would be. All we could do was wait until the cores had been transported back to GEUS.

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 Sealed red plastic pipes  containing the cored succession of the Sose-1 well (Photo: Gunver K. Pedersen, GEUS).

 

 

To be continued…

 

 

 

Mignon Talbot and the forgotten women of Paleontology.

Nice blog post on women in palaeontology by Paleonerdish! Check out her nice blog 🙂

Letters from Gondwana.

Sin título Mignon Talbot  (From Turner et al, 2010)

The nineteenth century was the “golden age” of Geology, and women began to play an important role in the advance of this field of science. They collected fossils and mineral specimens, and were allowed to attend scientific lectures, but they were barred from membership in scientific societies. It was common for male scientists to have women assistants, often their own wives and daughters. A good example of that was Mary Lyell (1808–1873), daughter of the geologist Leonard Horner and the wife of eminent geologist Charles Lyell. But for most of men, the participation of women in geology and paleontology was perceived as a hobby.

Mary Anning (1799-1847), was a special case. She was the most famous woman paleontologist of her time, and found the first specimens of what would later be recognized as Ichthyosaurus, the first complete Plesiosaurus, the first pterosaur skeleton outside Germany…

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We’ve reached the Triassic!

During Saturday core drilling at Sose bugt continued slowly. Because the sedimentary succession is fairly unconsolidated we are drilling with a technique that encase the cored sediments in 1,5 m long pipes. This means that it is only possible to investigate the cored sediments at the top or bottom of each core section. Typical Early Jurassic whitish sands and grey clays had been cored during the first three days of drilling. On Saturday we were closing in on two prominent seismic horizons, one which we suspected could be the top of the Triassic redbeds. At 91 m there were still grey clays but also coal. But at 95 m the top of the core showed dark grey clays, while the bottom consisted of light green sand and clay typical for the Upper but not the uppermost Triassic. We had finally reached the Triassic! 🙂

Drilling will continue for a few more hours tomorrow until the geophysical logging equipment arrives. We are all very excited and can’t wait to get the cores back to GEUS so that we can study them. Almost 95 m of Lower Jurassic and hopefully also uppermost Triassic (Rhaetian) near coastal sedimentary strata which we think will provide us with additional information on the end-Triassic mass extinction and the biotic recovery that followed.

Sose Bugt on Bornholm is a beautiful place (photo: S. Lindström)

Sose Bugt on Bornholm is a beautiful place (photo: S. Lindström)

Drilling through Triassic-Jurassic boundary strata

On Tuesday next week we launch our new core drilling project. This time we are going to drill through the lowermost Jurassic sedimentary succession at Sose Bugt on the Danish island of Bornholm, with the aim to reach uppermost Triassic rocks. Despite many excellent geological studies in the area it is not clear if the Triassic-Jurassic boundary is preserved on the Sose Fault block, but the presence of Hettangian-Sinemurian strata in the coastal cliffs at Sose Bugt and Upper Triassic green and red clays along parts of the coast make it an ideal area to drill for the TJB.

Our core drilling project is funded by Geocenter Denmark and is a part of our research project on the end-Triassic mass extinction event. The core drilling will provide us with new research material, hopefully both of the mass extinction interval and of the recovery in the earliest Jurassic.

Quite excited about this! 🙂

Beautiful Hettangian (lowermost Jurassic) clays and sands at Sose Bugt, Bornholm, Denmark (Photo: Sofie Lindström)

Beautiful Hettangian (lowermost Jurassic) clays and sands at Sose Bugt, Bornholm, Denmark (Photo: Sofie Lindström)

EGU2014 Thursday: “Volcanism, Impacts, Mass extinctions and Global environmental change” – a brief review of two talks.

Thursday afternoon at the EGU2014 was totally dedicated to the session “Volcanism, Impacts, Mass extinctions and Global environmental change” in which I also presented a talk. The session contained a total of eleven oral presentations covering various subject within the above mentioned topics. The first four talks were on the volcanism of the Siberian Traps and the end-Permian mass extinction event.

In the first talk, Seth Burgess presented new high-resolution geochronological data for the intrusives of the Siberian Traps. Burgess and his colleagues had used the same analysis and standards on not only zircons from the Siberian Traps, but also on zircons from the ash-layers bracketing the end-Permian mass extinction level at the GSSP Meishan in China. According to these new datings all the dated intrusives post-date the end-Triassic mass extinction event. Seth Burgess stated that although these data could be taken as “the nail in the coffin for the theory that the intrusive activity caused the mass extinction” he didn’t believe that they did. He then went on to explain that the majority of the intrusives of the Siberian Traps are situated at depths and those that have been dated are the ones that are accessible, probably producing a biased record.

This was good news for the second speaker, Henrik Svensen, who presented a talk on the sill-induced evaporite and coal metamorphism of the Siberian Traps. Svensen and colleagues showed that the Siberian Traps contain very thick sills that have been emplaced into both coal-bearing sediments and salt deposits, with the potential for degassing of both green house gases (CH4, CO2), aerosols (SO2), and ozone destructive gases (CH3Cl, CH3Br), which could explain the end-Permian biotic crisis.

A fuzzy picture of Henrik Svensen and his audience.

A fuzzy picture of Henrik Svensen and his audience.

 

Report from the GSA-meeting in Denver, and the session on the TJ-boundary and end-Triassic mass extinction

Last week I attended the Geological Society of America (GSA) annual meeting and 125th anniversary which was held at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, Colorado, USA – A multitude of scientific sessions and thousands of geoscientists! As always with large conferences, it is both fantastic and confusing to have so many interesting sessions presented almost simultaneously.

The Colorado Convention Center in Denver with its Blue Bear and the Rockies in the background (view from my hotel window at the Regency Hyatt; Photo: S. Lindström).

The Colorado Convention Center in Denver with its Blue Bear and the Rockies in the background (view from my hotel window at the Regency Hyatt; Photo: S. Lindström).

I participated in the session T238. New insights into Triassic-Jurassic Transition events and end-Triassic Mass Extinction (blue text are links to program and abstracts). This session was graciously hosted by Rowan C. Martindale and Morgan F. Schaller who had put together an interesting programme bringing forth some of the latest research and ideas concerning TJ-boundary research. We who participated got to hear interesting talks on the carbon cycle, specifically on Late Triassic pCO2 variations by Morgan Schaller et al. and on Late Triassic ocean stability and orbital control by Sylvain Richoz et al.  The pedogenic carbonate results of Schaller et al.’s research suggest a long-time (30-million-years) fall in the atmospheric CO2-content from the Carnian to the late Rhaetian prior to the eruption of the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP). Richoz et al., on the otherhand, demonstrate a relatively stable marine C-isotope curve from the Norian to the Rhaetian, displaying only a gentle decrease, i.e. possibly an on-going input of light carbon to the atmosphere (increased CO2) during the Late Triassic prior to CAMP eruption. 

Regarding the plant record, Wolfram Kürschner presented some new data indicating environmental mutagenesis in Late Triassic conifers in more equatorial areas, where a sudden size increase in Classopollis pollen may be due to whole genome doubling (polyploidy) as a consequence of environmental stress.  Karen Bacon talked about the fact that many present-day plants get thicker leaves when subjected to increased levels of CO2, and especially if exposed to low O2 at the same time, and put this in relation to findings in the plant records across the TJ-boundary in East Greenland. In one of the solicited talks, Jennifer McElwain presented an extensive review of her and her co-workers palaeobotanical research on the TJ-boundary of East Greenland over the last 25 years. The impact of her research did however, receive some criticism from the next solicited speaker Spencer Lucas who meant that not only is there no palaeobotanical evidence for a global or even regional mass extinction at the end of the Triassic, but not for the terrestrial terapods either! But then Lucas did not seem to acknowledge the palynological support for a floral mass extinction. His critique does emphasize that there is a need of more thorough palaeobotanical work across the TJ-boundary from other parts of the world.

Lucas also presented major criticism on the impact of the cyclostratigraphic scheme for the Newark Basin, which he said had caused “a decade-long miscorrelation” with other TJ-boundary succession. This led to a slightly heated discussion between Lucas and the next speaker, Paul Olsen, one of the researchers behind the Newark Basin cyclostratigraphy. In his talk, Paul Olsen discussed the impact a volcanic winter due to SO2-degassing from the CAMP would have on terrestrial vertebrates. 

After a short break it was finally my turn. My talk, entitled “Supraregional seismites in Triassic – Jurassic boundary strata“, presented widespread evidence of episodic seismic activity in NW Europe during the end-Triassic mass extinction interval. My co-authors and I have found evidence of at least four separate seismic events in the form of soft-sediment deformations within TJ-boundary successions from Sweden, Denmark and Germany, and the implications of these on the CAMP and the end-Triassic mass extinction where discussed during the talk, which was going as scheduled when it was interrupted by a ca 5 minute long false fire alarm. Eventually I could continue and finish my talk but unfortunately with no time for questions.

One of the most interesting talks was that on the Cotham Marble where Yadira Ibarra et al. showed that the calcified microbial mats, containing prasinophycean algal cysts (Tasmanites) and a sparse shelly fauna, must have formed in a calcium carbonate supersaturated environment. The Cotham Marble is synchronous to the so called initial C-isotope excursion. Kathleen Rittersbuch et al. presented new data on earliest Jurassic siliceous sponge dominance based on fieldwork in the Peruvian Andes. Correlations with siliceous sponge records in Nevada, the Austrian Alps and Morocco indicate that this was a globally relevant phenomena.

Aviv Bachan and Jonathan Payne presented modeling of hypothesized carbon cycle perturbation scenarios for the TJ-boundary, focusing on the large positive C-isotope excursion (CIE) following the sharp negative CIE. They found that the modelled scenario most similar to the recorded C-isotope record is that with temporary increase in pCO2 coincident with the volatile release, as well as a temporary decrease in carbonate saturation, indicating that the release of volatiles during the emplacement of the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province could have been the driver of the environmental perturbation.

The final talk of the session was that of Bas van de Schootbrugge et al. who presented our palynological reworking data that indicate increased weathering and erosion, i.e. mass-wasting, synchronous to the terrestrial deforestation during the end-Triassic mass extinction. The massive reworking registered in both Germany, Denmark and Sweden, emphasizes the severity of the environmental impact on the land environment, and it seems likely that increased input of sediment, soil and organic matter to the ocean must have played a part in the extinction scenario.

We celebrated the end of an interesting the session by having lunch at the Rock-Bottom Restaurant in downtown Denver. Good food and great company! 🙂