Two distinct episodes of marine anoxia during the Permian-Triassic crisis evidenced by uranium isotopes in marine dolostones

Feifei Zhang, Shu zhong Shen, Ying Cui, Timothy M. Lenton, Tais W. Dahl, Hua Zhang, Quan feng Zheng, Wenqian Wang, Karl Krainer, Ariel D. Anbar

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The end-Permian mass extinction (EPME; ca. 251.94 Ma) is the most severe mass extinction in the geological record. Detailed paleobiological investigations show a very rapid EPME event, and recently published δ238U data show a large negative excursion and thus a massive shift to globally expanded anoxia at the main extinction phase in the latest Permian. The negative shift in δ238U is in correlation with a globally characterized negative δ13C excursion near the Permian-Triassic boundary (PTB). In some highly expanded PTB carbonate sections, however, there are two distinct negative δ13C excursions whereas uranium isotopes (δ238U) from such sections have not yet been examined, leaving a gap in the understanding of the global perturbations of marine redox conditions immediately following the EPME. Here, we present a new δ238U study of syn-depositional dolostones from a well-characterized and highly expanded drill core, which recorded two pronounced negative δ13C excursions across the PTB, from the Carnic Alps, Austria. This drill core extends 331-meters across the PTB and provides a unique opportunity to explore the detailed timing, duration, and extent of marine redox chemistry changes before, during, and immediately after the EPME. Our new δ238U record shows two negative shifts, which are correlated with the two negative δ13C excursions. The first negative δ238U excursion preceding the EPME confirms the recently published δ238U records from across the EPME and support that syndepositional marine dolostones can record δ238U trends of seawater similar to that of limestones. Modeling of uranium isotope cycling in the latest Permian and earliest Triassic oceans suggests two distinct stages of expanded marine anoxia separated by a brief interval (∼100 kyr) of reoxygenation across the PTB. The first anoxic episode lasted for ∼ 60 kyr while anoxic seafloor area expanded to cover >18% of the entire seafloor, coeval with the main EPME horizon, agreeing with marine anoxia as a proximate kill mechanism for the EPME. The second anoxic event was less intense compared to the first anoxic pulse but sustained for a longer duration. A global modeling of coupled C, P, and U cycles show that two pulses of volcanic carbon injection that drives global warming and increased phosphorus weathering rate can reasonably reproduce our data to match two phases of anoxia. The model also demonstrates that the loss of terrestrial vegetation in the EPME is crucial to generating an intervening interval of oxygenated ocean. Our new study adds to a growing body of evidence that the global marine redox conditions underwent rapid oscillations during the EPME event and continued afterward, which may have played a central role in delaying the marine ecosystem recovery in the Early Triassic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-179
Number of pages15
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
StatePublished - 15 Oct 2020


  • Biogeochemical model
  • End-Permian mass extinction
  • Marine anoxia
  • Mass balance model
  • Permian-Triassic
  • Uranium isotopes


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