Nitrate reduction, sulfate reduction, and sedimentary iron isotope evolution during the Cenomanian-Turonian oceanic anoxic event

Hugh C. Jenkyns*, Alan Matthews, Harilaos Tsikos, Yigal Erel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Scopus citations


Organic carbon-rich shales from localities in England, Italy, and Morocco, which formed during the Cenomanian-Turonian oceanic anoxic event (OAE), have been examined for their total organic carbon (TOC) values together with their carbon, nitrogen, and iron isotope ratios. Carbon isotope stratigraphy (δ13 Corg and δ13 Ccarb) allows accurate recognition of the strata that record the oceanic anoxic event, in some cases allowing characterization of isotopic species before, during, and after the OAE. Within the black shales formed during the OAE, relatively heavy nitrogen isotope ratios, which correlate positively with TOC, suggest nitrate reduction (leading ultimately to denitrification and/or anaerobic ammonium oxidation). Black shales deposited before the onset of the OAE in Italy have unusually low bulk δ57 Fe values, unlike those found in the black shale (Livello Bonarelli) deposited during the oceanic anoxic event itself: These latter conform to the Phanerozoic norm for organic-rich sediments. Pyrite formation in the pre-OAE black shales has apparently taken place via dissimilatory iron reduction (DIR), within the sediment, a suboxic process that causes an approximately -2‰ fractionation between a lithogenic Fe(III)oxide source and Fe(II)aq. In contrast, bacterial sulfate reduction (BSR), at least partly in the water column, characterized the OAE itself and was accompanied by only minor, iron isotope fractionation. This change in the manner of pyrite formation is reflected in a decrease in the average pyrite framboid diameter from ∼10 to ∼7 μm. The gradual, albeit irregular increase in Fe isotope values during the OAE, as recorded in the Italian section, is taken to demonstrate limited isotopic evolution of the dissolved iron pool, consequent upon ongoing water column precipitation of pyrite under euxinic conditions. Given that evidence exists for both nitrate and sulfate reduction during the OAE, it is evident that redox conditions in the water column were highly variable, in both time and space.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numberPA3208
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2007


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