Extensive marine anoxia associated with the Late Devonian Hangenberg Crisis

Feifei Zhang, Tais W. Dahl, Timothy M. Lenton, Genming Luo, Shu zhong Shen, Thomas J. Algeo, Noah Planavsky, Jiangsi Liu, Ying Cui, Wenkun Qie, Stephen J. Romaniello, Ariel D. Anbar

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49 Scopus citations


The global Hangenberg Crisis near the Devonian-Carboniferous boundary (DCB) represents one of the major Phanerozoic mass extinction events, which shaped the roots of modern vertebrate biodiversity. Marine anoxia has been cited as the proximate kill mechanism for this event. However, the detailed timing, duration, and extent of global marine redox chemistry changes across this critical interval remain controversial because most of the studies to date only constrain changes in local or regional redox chemistry. Thus, opinions on the significance of anoxia as a kill mechanism are variable—from anoxia being a primary driver to being relatively unimportant. In this study, we explore the evolution of global marine redox chemistry using U isotopes of marine limestones. The δ238U trends at Long'an section in South China document systematic oscillations with three negative shifts punctuated by two positive events in between. The magnitude of the δ238U oscillations implies that the sediments do not record contemporaneous seawater with a constant offset at all times. The lack of covariation between δ238U data and diagenetic indicators (e.g., Mn and Sr contents, Mn/Sr ratio, δ18O) suggests that the δ238U trends are not produced by the same post-depositional diagenetic processes. Instead, trace-metal enrichments suggest that more reducing conditions prevailed during the deposition of the two positive events. We present plausible model scenarios that fit the observed δ238U trends in the context of redox-sensitive trace metal data suggesting marine anoxia expanded in the latest Devonian oceans to cover >5% of the continental shelf seafloor area. The rapid expansion of marine anoxia coincident with the onset of the Hangenberg Crisis supports marine anoxia as an important kill mechanism. Biogeochemical modeling of the coupled C-P-U cycles suggests that intensified continental weathering, for example, assisted by the spread of seed plants with deeper root systems at this time, could have triggered expansion of marine anoxia and other global changes (e.g., positive excursion in δ13Ccarb and decrease in sea surface temperature) in the latest Devonian. The anoxic event is inferred to have been transient as climatic cooling would have reduced weathering fluxes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number115976
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • Devonian-Carboniferous
  • Hangenberg Crisis
  • biogeochemical model
  • marine anoxia
  • mass extinction
  • uranium isotopes


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