Organic geochemistry of the early Toarcian oceanic anoxic event in Hawsker Bottoms, Yorkshire, England

K. L. French*, J. Sepúlveda, J. Trabucho-Alexandre, D. R. Gröcke, R. E. Summons

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Citations (Scopus)


A comprehensive organic geochemical investigation of the Hawsker Bottoms outcrop section in Yorkshire, England has provided new insights about environmental conditions leading into and during the Toarcian oceanic anoxic event (T-OAE; ~183 Ma). Rock-Eval and molecular analyses demonstrate that the section is uniformly within the early oil window. Hydrogen index (HI), organic petrography, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) distributions, and tricyclic terpane ratios mark a shift to a lower relative abundance of terrigenous organic matter supplied to the sampling locality during the onset of the T-OAE and across a lithological transition. Unlike other ancient intervals of anoxia and extinction, biomarker indices of planktonic community structure do not display major changes or anomalous values. Depositional environment and redox indicators support a shift towards more reducing conditions in the sediment porewaters and the development of a seasonally stratified water column during the T-OAE. In addition to carotenoid biomarkers for green sulfur bacteria (GSB), we report the first occurrence of okenane, a marker of purple sulfur bacteria (PSB), in marine samples younger than ~1.64 Ga. Based on modern observations, a planktonic source of okenane's precursor, okenone, would require extremely shallow photic zone euxinia (PZE) and a highly restricted depositional environment. However, due to coastal vertical mixing, the lack of planktonic okenone production in modern marine sulfidic environments, and building evidence of okenone production in mat-dwelling Chromatiaceae, we propose a sedimentary source of okenone as an alternative. Lastly, we report the first parallel compound-specific δ13C record in marine- and terrestrial-derived biomarkers across the T-OAE. The δ13C records of short-chain n-alkanes, acyclic isoprenoids, and long-chain n-alkanes all encode negative carbon isotope excursions (CIEs), and together, they support an injection of isotopically light carbon that impacted both the atmospheric and marine carbon reservoirs. To date, molecular δ13C records of the T-OAE display a negative CIE that is smaller in magnitude compared to the bulk organic δ13C excursion. Although multiple mechanisms could explain this observation, our molecular, petrographic, and Rock-Eval data suggest that variable mixing of terrigenous and marine organic matter is an important factor affecting the bulk organic δ13C records of the T-OAE.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-127
Number of pages12
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Toarcian oceanic anoxic event
  • lipid biomarkers
  • okenane
  • photic zone euxinia
  • stable carbon isotopes
  • Hawsker Bottoms


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