Circulation of North American epicontinental seas during the Carboniferous using stable isotope and trace element analyses of brachiopod shells
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Previous studies have identified δ¹³C events in the Carboniferous that imply major shifts in the carbon cycle. However, inherent in this interpretation is the assumption that epicontinental seas are chemically representative of the global ocean. Our study uses stable isotope and trace element analyses of brachiopod shells to examine changes in climate and circulation of the North American epeiric sea. Formations were selected for study to provide shallow marine environments with geographic coverage of North America. These units include the Grove Church and Mattoon Formations (Illinois Basin), Glenshaw Formation (Appalachian Basin), Bird Spring Formation (Bird Spring Basin), and Oread Formation (US midcontinent). In all, 98 brachiopod shells were found to be well preserved based on screening with plane light and cathodoluminescence microscopy of thin-sections, and trace element analyses. Upper Chesterian Grove Church (Illinois Basin) samples have δ¹³C and δ¹⁸O averages of 1.1% and -3.1% respectively. These low values are interpreted as a local or regional effect caused by terrestrial runoff. Terrestrial influences are also suggested by the depositional environment: nearshore marine. Chesterian samples from the Bird Spring Formation at Arrow Canyon, Nevada average 3.7% and -1.4% for δ¹³C and δ¹⁸O respectively. The higher δ¹³C and δ¹⁸O values, compared with samples from the time equivalent Grove Church, likely reflect the freer exchange with the Panthalassa Ocean at this most western edge of North America, and best represent open-ocean conditions. Samples from the Virgilian Ames-Shumway-Plattsmouth cyclothem show a progression of δ¹³C and δ¹⁸O enrichment moving west from near the Appalachians (1.9% and -3.8%) to the Illinois Basin (3.2% and -2.4%) and finally to the US midcontinent (4.2% and -1.5%). This is interpreted as the transition from nearshore, terrestrial influence with enhanced organic matter oxidation and lower salinity to well-mixed conditions with normal salinities and potential for seafloor ventilation and upwelling. This is supported by published sediment ΣNd(t) values from the Appalachian Basin (ΣNd(t) = -9) that increase further westward (ΣNd(t) = -6) due to higher influence from the eastern Panthalassa Ocean. Mass balance calculations based on the δ¹⁸O of the brachiopod shells suggest salinities of 25 and 31 psu for the Appalachian and Illinois Basins, respectively, assuming salinities of 34.5 psu for the US midcontinent. Trace element analyses do not show a systematic east-west trend similar to stable isotopes. In both time slices, spiriferids from the intermediately-located Illinois Basin are enriched in Mg/Ca and Sr/Ca relative to those in other basins. This Mg and Sr enrichment in Illinois Basin brachiopods suggests delivery of Sr-rich fresh waters and restricted circulation in that basin.
Bird Spring Basin
Flake, Ryan Christopher (2011). Circulation of North American epicontinental seas during the Carboniferous using stable isotope and trace element analyses of brachiopod shells. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from