The Ediacaran radiogenic Sr isotope excursion in the Doushantuo Formation in the Three Gorges area, South China

Yusuke Sawaki, Takeshi Ohno, Miyuki Tahata, Tsuyoshi Komiya, Takafumi Hirata, Shigenori Maruyama, Brian F. Windley, Jian Han, Degan Shu, Yong Li

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    189 Citations (Scopus)


    The Ediacaran period was one of the most important times for the evolution of life. However, the scarcity of well-preserved outcrops of Ediacaran rocks still leaves ambiguity in decoding ambient surface environmental changes and biological evolution. The Ediacaran strata in South China are almost continuously exposed, comprise mainly carbonate rocks with subordinate black shales and sandstones, and they contain many fossils, suitable for study of environmental and biological changes in the Ediacaran. We conducted drilling through the Doushantuo Fm at four sites in the Three Gorges area to obtain continuous, fresh samples without surface alteration and oxidation. We analyzed 87Sr/86Sr and 88Sr/86Sr ratios of the fresh carbonate rocks, selected on the basis of microscopic observations and the geochemical signatures of Sr contents, Mn/Sr and Rb/Sr ratios, and δ18O values, with a multiple collector-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometer (MC-ICP-MS). The chemostratigraphy of the 87Sr/86Sr ratios of the drilled samples displays a smooth curve and two large positive shifts during Ediacaran time. The combination of the detailed chemostratigraphies of δ13C, δ18O and 87Sr/86Sr values and Mn and Fe contents enables us to decode the surface environmental changes and their causes in the Ediacaran. The first large positive excursion of 87Sr/86Sr occurred together with negative δ13C and positive δ18O excursions. The higher 87Sr/86Sr values indicate an enhancement of continental weathering, whereas the positive δ18O excursion suggests global cooling. Global regression due to global cooling enhanced the oxidative decay of exposed marine organic sediments and continental weathering. Accelerated influx of nutrients promoted primary productivity, resulting in oxidation of dissolved organic carbon (DOC), whereas active sulfate reduction due to a higher sulfate influx from the continents caused remineralization of the large DOC, both of which caused a negative δ13C anomaly. The 580 Ma Gaskiers glaciation accounts for the close correlation among the positive 87Sr/86Sr, negative δ13C and positive δ18O excursions. The second large positive shift of 87Sr/86Sr firstly accompanied a positive δ13C excursion, and continued through the Shuram δ13C negative excursion. The positive correlation of δ13C and 87Sr/86Sr values is consistent with an enhanced continental weathering rate due to continental collisions that built Trans-Gondwana mountain chains, and with a higher primary activity due to the enhancement of continental weathering and consequent higher nutrient contents in seawater. The accompanied increase in Mn and Fe contents implies a gradual decline of the seawater oxygen content due to more active aerobic respiration and oxidation of reductive materials flowing in the oceans. In the Shuram excursion, higher 87Sr/86Sr values and a transition from increase to decrease in Mn and Fe contents were accompanied by the large negative δ13C excursion. The higher 87Sr/86Sr values are the first compelling evidence for enhanced continental weathering, which was responsible for the large δ13C anomaly through the remineralization of the DOC by more active sulfate reduction due to a higher sulfate influx. Higher Mn and Fe contents in the early and middle stages of the excursion suggest a decline in the oxygen content of seawater due to oxidative decay of the DOC, whereas in the late stages the decrease in Mn and Fe contents is consistent with oceanic oxygenation. The emergence of Ediacara biota after the Gaskiers glaciation and the prosperity of the latest Ediacaran is concomitant with the formation of more radiogenic seawater with high 87Sr/86Sr values, suggesting that enhanced continental weathering, and the consequent higher influx of nutrients, played an important role in biological evolution.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)46-64
    Number of pages19
    JournalPrecambrian Research
    Issue number1-4
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2010


    • Biological evolution
    • Doushantuo Formation
    • Gaskiers glaciation
    • Gondwana supercontinent
    • Multiple isotope systems of Sr/Sr
    • Neoproterozoic
    • Nutrients
    • Shuram excursion
    • Sr/Sr
    • δC and δO

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Geology
    • Geochemistry and Petrology


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