Neoproterozoic cap carbonates: a critical appraisal of existing models and the plumeworld hypothesis

Shields, Graham A. (2005) Neoproterozoic cap carbonates: a critical appraisal of existing models and the plumeworld hypothesis. Terra Nova, 17 (4). pp. 299-310.

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Evidence for glaciation during the mid-late Neoproterozoic is widespread on Earth, reflecting three or more ice ages between 730 Ma and 580 Ma. Of these, the late Neoproterozoic Marinoan glaciation of approximately 635 Ma stands out because of its ubiquitous association with a characteristic, microcrystalline cap dolostone that drapes glacially influenced rock units worldwide. The Marinoan glaciation is also peculiar in that evidence for low altitude glaciation at equatorial latitudes is compelling. Three models have been proposed linking abrupt deglaciation with this global carbonate precipitation event: (i) overturn of an anoxic deep ocean; (ii) catastrophically accelerated rates of chemical weathering because of supergreenhouse conditions following global glaciation (Snowball Earth Hypothesis); and (iii) massive release of carbonate alkalinity from destabilized methane clathrates. All three models invoke extreme alkalinity fluxes into seawater during deglaciation but none explains how such alkalinity excess from point sources could be distributed homogeneously around the globe. In addition, none explains the consistent sequence of precipitation events observed within cap carbonate successions, specifically: (i) the global blanketing of carbonate powder in shallow marine environments during deglaciation; (ii) widespread and disruptive precipitation of dolomite cement; followed by (iii) localized barite precipitation and seafloor cementation by aragonite. The conceptual model presented here proposes that low latitude deglaciation was so massive and abrupt that the resultant meltwater plume could extend worldwide, physically separating the surface and deep ocean reservoirs for ≥103 years. It is proposed that cap dolostones formed primarily by microbially mediated precipitation of carbonate whitings during algal blooms within this low salinity plumeworld rather than by abiotic precipitation from normal salinity seawater. Many of the disruption features that are characteristic of cap dolostones can be explained by microbially mediated, early diagenetic dolomitization and cementation. The re-initiation of whole ocean circulation degassed CO2 into the atmosphere in areas of upwelling, triggering localized, abiotic CaCO3 precipitation in the form of aragonite fans that overlie cap dolostones in NW Canada and Namibia. The highly oxygenated shallow marine environments of the glacial and post-glacial Neoproterozoic world provided consistently favourable conditions for the evolutionary development of animals and other oxygenophiles.

Item ID: 7151
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1365-3121
Date Deposited: 22 Mar 2010 02:49
FoR Codes: 04 EARTH SCIENCES > 0402 Geochemistry > 040299 Geochemistry not elsewhere classified @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970104 Expanding Knowledge in the Earth Sciences @ 100%
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