Stratigraphy, Geochemistry, and Paleoceanography of Organic Carbon-Rich Cretaceous Sequences

  • M. A. Arthur
  • H.-J. Brumsack
  • H. C. Jenkyns
  • S. O. Schlanger
Part of the NATO ASI Series book series (ASIC, volume 304)


The Cretaceous is characterized by unusually widespread distribution of “black shales”-- sequences of variable lithology containing numerous beds with organic-carbon (OC) contents in excess of 1 percent by weight-- in both deep- and shallow-marine settings. General time envelopes of globally important organic-carbon burial during the Aptian-Albian, at the Cenomanian-Turonian boundary, and to a lesser extent in the Coniacian-Santonian, have been termed “Oceanic Anoxic Events (OAEs)”. The available stratigraphic and organic geochemical data and secular trends in the carbon isotopic composition of marine carbonates suggest that the timing of OC burial is broadly synchronous during these episodes and that the mass of OC buried during each is considerable. There may be other important episodes of more widespread OC burial, as yet poorly documented, such as the Valanginian- Hauterivian.

Despite the recent burgeoning of interest in the Cretaceous “black shale problem”, a host of very basic and important questions requires focused and intensive study. There is a pressing need for detailed biostratigraphic and chemostratigraphic zonation of “black-shale” sequences, for high-resolution sampling and analysis of organic and inorganic geochemical parameters, and for careful documentation of sedimentary structures in Cretaceous “black-shale” sequences from different paleoenvironments on a worldwide basis. These data are required to answer basic questions regarding the timing of OC burial events and the areal distribution of OC-rich strata (Are OAEs really globally synchronous? Are there shorter period episodes within longer time envelopes?) and their relation to tectonic, sea level and climatic events (episodes). In addition, such data will help to determine whether periods of organic matter enrichment indicate unusually high oceanic biological productivity (fertility), high rates of supply of terrestrial organic matter and consequent high carbon fluxes to sediments and/or enhanced preservation of organic matter under widespread oxygen-deficient deep-water masses as the result of very different rates of oceanic overturn and/or high nutrient concentrations.

There is a strong correspondence between organic matter burial and mineralization (e.g. phosphorites and stratiform iron and manganese ores as primary deposits and perhaps metal sulfide ores as secondary deposits), and an obvious link between the “black shales” and hydrocarbon occurrences. Globally widespread “black shale” deposition is not unique to the Cretaceous, having characterized parts of the Jurassic, Devonian and CambroOrdovician. However, the Cretaceous record offers a unique opportunity to develop a better understanding of the factors that led to such episodes of enhanced organic matter preservation in marine strata in the past, particularly during periods characterized by warm, more equable climate, maximum extent of shelf seas and pronounced volcanism.

The effort to elucidate this record will require collaboration of a broad spectrum of earth scientists, including sedimentologists, stratigraphers, paleontologists and geochemists. The efforts of Working Group 2 of the CRER-GSGP will also be coordinated closely with those of the other Working Groups because of the interconnections between tectonic events, climate (short-term cycles and longer-term trends) and sea level variations and resulting impacts on ocean-atmosphere chemistry, circulation, biotic evolution and productivity, and organic matter burial. A global perspective on Cretaceous black shale deposition should be developed. This will necessitate contributions from scientists in a number of countries towards development of a global data base of characteristics of Cretaceous black shales and an international program of drilling and coring of Cretaceous black shale sequences, which might involve other objectives of CRER as well.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. A. Arthur
    • 1
  • H.-J. Brumsack
    • 2
  • H. C. Jenkyns
    • 3
  • S. O. Schlanger
    • 4
  1. 1.Graduate School of OceanographyUniversity of Rhode IslandNarragansettUSA
  2. 2.Geochemisches InstitutGottingenGermany
  3. 3.Department of Earth SciencesUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  4. 4.Department of Geological SciencesNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

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