Articles | Volume 12, issue 4
Reviews and syntheses
24 Feb 2015
Reviews and syntheses |  | 24 Feb 2015

Records of past mid-depth ventilation: Cretaceous ocean anoxic event 2 vs. Recent oxygen minimum zones

J. Schönfeld, W. Kuhnt, Z. Erdem, S. Flögel, N. Glock, M. Aquit, M. Frank, and A. Holbourn

Abstract. Present day oceans are well ventilated, with the exception of mid-depth oxygen minimum zones (OMZs) under high surface water productivity, regions of sluggish circulation, and restricted marginal basins. In the Mesozoic, however, entire oceanic basins transiently became dysoxic or anoxic. The Cretaceous ocean anoxic events (OAEs) were characterised by laminated organic-carbon rich shales and low-oxygen indicating trace fossils preserved in the sedimentary record. Yet assessments of the intensity and extent of Cretaceous near-bottom water oxygenation have been hampered by deep or long-term diagenesis and the evolution of marine biota serving as oxygen indicators in today's ocean. Sedimentary features similar to those found in Cretaceous strata were observed in deposits underlying Recent OMZs, where bottom-water oxygen levels, the flux of organic matter, and benthic life have been studied thoroughly. Their implications for constraining past bottom-water oxygenation are addressed in this review. We compared OMZ sediments from the Peruvian upwelling with deposits of the late Cenomanian OAE 2 from the north-west African shelf. Holocene laminated sediments are encountered at bottom-water oxygen levels of < 7 μmol kg−1 under the Peruvian upwelling and < 5 μmol kg−1 in California Borderland basins and the Pakistan Margin. Seasonal to decadal changes of sediment input are necessary to create laminae of different composition. However, bottom currents may shape similar textures that are difficult to discern from primary seasonal laminae. The millimetre-sized trace fossil Chondrites was commonly found in Cretaceous strata and Recent oxygen-depleted environments where its diameter increased with oxygen levels from 5 to 45 μmol kg−1. Chondrites has not been reported in Peruvian sediments but centimetre-sized crab burrows appeared around 10 μmol kg−1, which may indicate a minimum oxygen value for bioturbated Cretaceous strata. Organic carbon accumulation rates ranged from 0.7 and 2.8 g C cm−2 kyr−1 in laminated OAE 2 sections in Tarfaya Basin, Morocco, matching late Holocene accumulation rates of laminated Peruvian sediments under Recent oxygen levels below 5 μmol kg−1. Sediments deposited at > 10 μmol kg−1 showed an inverse exponential relationship of bottom-water oxygen levels and organic carbon accumulation depicting enhanced bioirrigation and decomposition of organic matter with increased oxygen supply. In the absence of seasonal laminations and under conditions of low burial diagenesis, this relationship may facilitate quantitative estimates of palaeo-oxygenation. Similarities and differences between Cretaceous OAEs and late Quaternary OMZs have to be further explored to improve our understanding of sedimentary systems under hypoxic conditions.

Short summary
Today’s oceans show distinct mid-depth oxygen minima while whole oceanic basins became transiently anoxic in the Mesozoic. To constrain past bottom-water oxygenation, we compared sediments from the Peruvian OMZ with the Cenomanian OAE 2 from Morocco. Corg accumulation rates in laminated OAE 2 sections match Holocene rates off Peru. Laminated deposits are found at oxygen levels of < 7µmol kg-1; crab burrows appear at 10µmol kg-1 today, both defining threshold values for palaeoreconstructions.
Final-revised paper