Articles | Volume 11, issue 3
Research article
18 Mar 2015
Research article |  | 18 Mar 2015

Freshwater discharge controlled deposition of Cenomanian–Turonian black shales on the NW European epicontinental shelf (Wunstorf, northern Germany)

N. A. G. M. van Helmond, A. Sluijs, J. S. Sinninghe Damsté, G.-J. Reichart, S. Voigt, J. Erbacher, J. Pross, and H. Brinkhuis

Abstract. Global warming, changes in the hydrological cycle and enhanced marine primary productivity all have been invoked as having contributed to the occurrence of widespread ocean anoxia during the Cenomanian–Turonian oceanic anoxic event (OAE2; ~94 Ma), but disentangling these factors on a regional scale has remained problematic. In an attempt to separate these forcing factors, we generated palynological and organic geochemical records using a core spanning the OAE2 from Wunstorf, Lower Saxony Basin (LSB; northern Germany), which exhibits cyclic black shale–marl alternations related to the orbital precession cycle.

Despite the widely varying depositional conditions complicating the interpretation of the obtained records, TEX86H indicates that sea-surface temperature (SST) evolution in the LSB during OAE2 resembles that of previously studied sites throughout the proto-North Atlantic. Cooling during the so-called Plenus Cold Event interrupted black shale deposition during the early stages of OAE2. However, TEX86 does not vary significantly across black shale–marl alternations, suggesting that temperature variations did not force the formation of the cyclic black shale horizons. Relative (i.e., with respect to marine palynomorphs) and absolute abundances of pollen and spores are elevated during phases of black shale deposition, indicative of enhanced precipitation and run-off. High abundances of cysts from inferred heterotrophic and euryhaline dinoflagellates supports high run-off, which likely introduced additional nutrients to the epicontinental shelf resulting in elevated marine primary productivity.

We conclude that orbitally forced enhanced precipitation and run-off, in tandem with elevated marine primary productivity, were critical in cyclic black shale formation on the northern European epicontinental shelf and potentially for other OAE2 sections in the proto-Atlantic and Western Interior Seaway at similar latitudes as well.

Short summary
Based on the chemistry and microfossils preserved in sediments deposited in a shallow sea, in the current Lower Saxony region (NW Germany), we conclude that changes in Earth’s orbit around the Sun led to enhanced rainfall and organic matter production. The additional supply of organic matter, depleting oxygen upon degradation, and freshwater, inhibiting the mixing of oxygen-rich surface waters with deeper waters, caused the development of oxygen-poor waters about 94 million years ago.