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Nannofossils and superplumes: The Early Aptian “nannoconid crisis”


  • Elisabetta Erba


A group of calcareous nannoplankton named nannoconids experienced a crisis in the early Aptian and recovered only later in the late Aptian after a period of virtual absence. Although no extinctions occurred, the widespread nature of the “nannoconid crisis” suggests a global causal factor. This crisis is recorded within the Chiastozygus litterarius nannofossil and Globigerinelloides blowi planktonic foraminiferal zones, postdates magnetic chronozone M0 by approximately 300 kyr, and precedes the oceanic anoxic subevent 1a and associated δ13C anomaly by some 40–100 kyr. Selective dissolution and anoxia cannot explain the crisis, because nannoconids are dissolution-resistant forms and their crisis clearly precedes the deposition of anoxic sediments. At least 1 m.y. prior to the “nannoconid crisis,” the onset of a nannoplankton speciation event may be the response of nannofloras to a major rise in relative sea level. The “nannoconid crisis” seems to be synchronous with the early Aptian volcanic eruptions in the Pacific Ocean. Hence calcareous nannoplankton were severely affected by the “superplume” volcanic episode. The coccolithophorid bloom/nannoconid crisis was possibly induced by the excessive CO2 levels in the atmosphere and/or caused by changes in nutrient content of oceanic surface waters. Fertility was enhanced by rapid turnover of nutrients due to the abnormal volcanic activity and accelerated transfer of nutrients from the continents into the oceans under warm and humid conditions of the mid-Cretaceous greenhouse climate. The “nannoconid crisis” may represent a competition between phytoplankton groups for nutrients or, more likely, competition between different calcareous nannoplankton. The biologic affinity and mode of life of Nannoconus are unknown, because there is no modern analog of this genus. However, comparison of Lower Cretaceous nannofossil assemblages with modern nannoplankton cummunities suggests that nannoconids, like extant Florisphaera profunda, possibly inhabited the lower photic zone. Concentrations of nutrients in the upper euphotic zone may have triggered blooms of coccolithophorids and nannoconid depletion. This model implies that the “nannoconid crisis” is the result of an abrupt, major change in the structure of surface waters caused directly or indirectly by the “superplume.” The adjustments of the biosphere to the new paleoceanographic and climatic conditions required some 40–100 kyr before changing into abnormally high primary productivity and deposition of organic carbon-rich sediments with dinoflagellates outcompeting nannoplankton.

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