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Title: Marine biodiversity during the latest Cretaceous in Antarctica and the nature of the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction
Author: Witts, James David
ISNI:       0000 0004 5918 5994
Awarding Body: University of Leeds
Current Institution: University of Leeds
Date of Award: 2016
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The Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) mass extinction event occurred 66 million years ago, the most recent of the ‘Big Five’ extinction crises of the last 540 million years. This event had a profound effect on both life and the broader Earth system, with the extinction of up to 75% of life. Despite years of detailed research, debate continues as to the nature and timing of the extinction. Ideas for an abrupt crisis, triggered by bolide impact at Chicxulub in the Gulf of Mexico, contrast with those suggesting a more gradual extinction, involving volcanism from the Deccan Traps Large Igneous Province in India and/or climatic changes. Evidence from the high latitudes has been used to suggest that the fossil record from Antarctica is incompatible with models for a single, sudden event, and that extinction intensity declined at high latitudes. This thesis presents a detailed study of extensive fossil and sediment collections from the highest southern latitude onshore outcrop containing the K–Pg transition; the highly expanded and fossiliferous López de Bertodano Formation of Seymour Island, James Ross Basin, located at 65°S today, and during the Cretaceous. New biostratigraphic and diversity data for the molluscan (bivalves, gastropods, cephalopods) faunas of the López de Bertodano Formation, and geochemical datasets (seawater sulphur and pyrite sulphur isotopes) are compared to published records, and evidence for palaeoenvironmental change. They suggest a single, rapid extinction event coincident with the K–Pg boundary, with no precursor decline. The magnitude of the extinction in Antarctica is also consistent with lower latitudes, suggestive of a global, catastrophic trigger for the K–Pg extinction, such as bolide impact. Sulphur isotope data suggest the K–Pg sulphur cycle was able to respond to rapid environmental changes before, and after the K–Pg mass extinction. A decoupling of the carbon and sulphur cycle occurred during the latest Cretaceous, but productivity collapse after the K–Pg extinction also affected the sulphur cycle. The recovery to pre-extinction values was achieved on the same timescale as carbon cycle and initial ecological recovery, suggesting close geosphere-biosphere links at this time.
Supervisor: Wignall, Paul B. ; Francis, Jane E. ; Newton, Robert J. ; Crame, J. Alistair Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available