Mass Mortality and Its Environmental and Evolutionary Consequences

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Science  16 Apr 1982:
Vol. 216, Issue 4543, pp. 249-256
DOI: 10.1126/science.216.4543.249


The latest Mesozoic and earliest Tertiary sediments at Deep Sea Drilling Project site 524 provide an amplified record of environmental and biostratographic changes at the end of Cretaceous. Closely spaced samples, representing time intervals as short as 102 or 103 years, were analyzed for their bulk carbonate and trace-metal compositions, and for oxygen and carbon isotopic compositions. The data indicate that at the end of Cretaceous, when a high proportion of the ocean's planktic organisms were eliminated, an associated reduction in productivity led to a partial transfer of dissolved carbon dioxide from the oceans to the atmosphere. This resulted in a large increase of the atmospheric carbon dioxide during the next 50,000 years, which is believed to have caused a temperature rise revealed by the oxygen-isotope data. The lowermost Tertiary sediments at site 524 include fossils with Cretaceous affinities, which may include both reworked individuals and some forms that survived for a while after the catastrophe. Our data indicate that many of the Cretaceous pelagic organisms became extinct over a period of a few tens of thousands of years, and do not contradict the scenario of cometary impact as a cause of mass mortality in the oceans, as suggested by an iridium anomaly at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary.