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An earth system approach to understanding the end-Ordovician (Hirnantian) mass extinction

By
Howard A. Armstrong
Howard A. Armstrong
Department of Earth Sciences, Palaeoecosystems Group, Durham University, Lower Mountjoy, Durham DH1 3LE, UK
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David A.T. Harper
David A.T. Harper
Department of Earth Sciences, Palaeoecosystems Group, Durham University, Lower Mountjoy, Durham DH1 3LE, UK
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Published:
September 01, 2014

The Hirnantian mass extinction is recognized as the first of the “big three” extinctions and, along with the end-Permian and end-Cretaceous events, is the result of an acceleration in biotic extinctions concomitant with a rise in originations. The Hirnantian mass extinction is characterized by high taxonomic impact and within-community extinctions. The Hirnantian mass extinction is also unusual in that (1) it is associated with glaciation, but there is little evidence elsewhere in the younger Phanerozoic that glaciations have been a cause of mass extinction, and (2) there is limited understanding of how glaciation could directly cause mass extinction, particularly in the marine realm. In this review, we argue that coordinated extinctions occurred at the onset and termination of glaciation and were due to climatically induced changes in relative sea level, ocean redox stratification, and sea-surface temperature gradients. These earth system changes resulted in a reduction in prospective niche space, both in the water column and on the seafloor, which in turn led to increased competition and selection pressures, resulting in extinctions where the carrying capacities of particular ecological niches were exceeded. The long-term ventilation of the oceans broke the link between glaciation and mass extinction.

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GSA Special Papers

Volcanism, Impacts, and Mass Extinctions: Causes and Effects

Gerta Keller
Gerta Keller
Department of Geosciences, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA
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Andrew C. Kerr
Andrew C. Kerr
School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University, Park Place, Cardiff CF10 3AT, Wales, UK
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Geological Society of America
Volume
505
ISBN print:
9780813725055
Publication date:
September 01, 2014

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