International Journal of Earth Sciences

, Volume 101, Issue 5, pp 1397–1406 | Cite as

Molecular carbon isotope variations in core samples taken at the Permian–Triassic boundary layers in southern China

  • Ruiliang Wang
  • Shuichang Zhang
  • Simon Brassell
  • Jiaxue Wang
  • Zhengyuan Lu
  • Qingzhong Ming
  • Xiaomei Wang
  • Lizeng Bian
Original Paper


Stable carbon isotope composition (δ13C) of carbonate sediments and the molecular (biomarker) characteristics of a continuous Permian–Triassic (PT) layer in southern China were studied to obtain geochemical signals of global change at the Permian–Triassic boundary (PTB). Carbonate carbon isotope values shifted toward positive before the end of the Permian period and then shifted negative above the PTB into the Triassic period. Molecular carbon isotope values of biomarkers followed the same trend at and below the PTB and remained negative in the Triassic layer. These biomarkers were acyclic isoprenoids, ranging from C15 to C40, steranes (C27 dominates) and terpenoids that were all significantly more abundant in samples from the Permian layer than those from the Triassic layer. The Triassic layer was distinguished by the dominance of higher molecular weight (waxy) n-alkanes. Stable carbon isotope values of individual components, including n-alkanes and acyclic isoprenoids such as phytane, isop-C25, and squalane, are depleted in δ13C by up to 8–10‰ in the Triassic samples as compared to the Permian. Measured molecular and isotopic variations of organic matter in the PT layers support the generally accepted view of Permian oceanic stagnation followed by a massive upwelling of toxic deep waters at the PTB. A series of large-scale (global) outgassing events may be associated with the carbon isotope shift we measured. This is also consistent with the lithological evidence we observed of white thin-clay layers in this region. Our findings, in context with a generally accepted stagnant Permian ocean, followed by massive upwelling of toxic deep waters might be the major causes of the largest global mass extinction event that occurred at the Permian–Triassic boundary.


Permian Triassic Southern China PTB Mass extinction, carbon isotope δ13Upwelling Outgassing 



The current study was partially supported by Open Fund (PLC200901) of State Key Laboratory of Oil and Gas Reservoir Geology and Exploitation, Chengdu University of Technology (RW) and NSFC-Yunnan Joint Funding project #U0933604/40872118 and 2009CC007 (RW & JW). The authors are very thankful to the anonymous reviewers for many helpful linguistic and scientific comments on the manuscript. Mrs. H. Shang (emeritus of CNPC) is acknowledged for participating in the early field sampling for the earlier related projects on PTB of southern China.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag (outside the USA) 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ruiliang Wang
    • 1
  • Shuichang Zhang
    • 3
  • Simon Brassell
    • 4
  • Jiaxue Wang
    • 2
  • Zhengyuan Lu
    • 5
  • Qingzhong Ming
    • 2
  • Xiaomei Wang
    • 3
  • Lizeng Bian
    • 6
  1. 1.Environment and Life SciencesBrookhaven National LaboratoryUptonUSA
  2. 2.Yunnan Key Lab of Geographic and Environmental ChangeYunnan Normal UniversityKunmingPeoples’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Key Laboratory of Petroleum GeochemistryPetroChinaBeijingPeoples’s Republic of China
  4. 4.Department of GeologyIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  5. 5.State Key Laboratory of Oil and Gas Reservoir Geology and ExploitationChengdu University of TechnologyChengduPeoples’s Republic of China
  6. 6.Department of GeologyNanjing UniversityNanjingPeoples’s Republic of China

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