Science China Earth Sciences

, Volume 60, Issue 12, pp 2118–2127 | Cite as

Quantitative model evaluation of organic carbon oxidation hypotheses for the Ediacaran Shuram carbon isotopic excursion

  • Wei Shi
  • Chao Li
  • Thomas J. Algeo
Research Paper


The largest global carbon-cycle perturbation in Earth history was recorded in the Ediacaran—a persistent negative shift in the global marine dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) reservoir that lasted for ∼25–50 million years, with a nadir of–12‰ (i.e., the Shuram Excursion, or SE). This event is considered to have been a result of full or partial oxidation of a large dissolved organic carbon (DOC) reservoir, which, if correct, provides evidence for massive DOC storage in the Ediacaran ocean owing to an intensive microbial carbon pump (MCP). However, this scenario was recently challenged by new hypotheses that relate the SE to oxidization of recycled continentally derived organic carbon or hydrocarbons from marine seeps. In order to test these competing hypotheses, this paper numerically simulates changes in global carbon cycle fluxes and isotopic compositions during the SE, revealing that: (1) given oxygen levels in the Ediacaran atmosphere-ocean of ≤40% PAL, the recycled continental organic carbon hypothesis and the full oxidation of oceanic DOC reservoir hypothesis are challenged by the atmospheric oxygen availability which would have been depleted in 4 and 6 million years, respectively; (2) the marine-seep hydrocarbon oxidation hypothesis is challenged by the exceedingly large hydrocarbon fluxes required to sustain the SE for >25 Myr; and (3) the heterogeneous (partial) DOC oxidation hypothesis is quantitatively able to account for the SE because the total amount of oxidants needed for partial oxidation (<50%) of the global DOC reservoir could have been met.


Carbon isotope Shuram Excursion Dissolved organic carbon Atmospheric oxygen Oceanic oxidation 


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We thank Nianzhi Jiao, Maoyan Zhu, Xuelei Chu, Timothy W. Lyons, Dalton S. Hardisty, Erik A. Sperling, Graham, A. Shields-Zhou, Junhua Huang, Genming Luo, and Chao Li’s group for their helpful discussions. We thank the three reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions. This work was supported by the National Program on Key Basic Research Project (Grant No. 2013CB955704), NSFC-RCUK_NERC Program (Grant No. 41661134048), the Fundamental Research Funds for Central Universities (Grant Nos. CUG-Wuhan; grants 1610491T01 and G1323531767), and the NASA Exobiology Program (TJA).


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Copyright information

© Science China Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Biogeology and Environmental GeologyChina University of GeosciencesWuhanChina
  2. 2.State Key Laboratory of Geological Processes and Mineral ResourcesChina University of GeosciencesWuhanChina
  3. 3.Department of GeologyUniversity of CincinnatiCincinnatiUSA

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