Abstract

Ocean stagnation has been invoked to explain the widespread occurrence of organic-carbon–rich, laminated sediments interpreted to have been deposited under anoxic bottom waters at the time of the end-Permian mass extinction. However, to a first approximation, stagnation would severely reduce the upwelling supply of nutrients to the photic zone, reducing productivity. Moreover, it is not obvious that ocean stagnation can be achieved. Numerical experiments performed with a three-dimensional global ocean model linked to a biogeochemical model of phosphate and oxygen cycling indicate that a low equator to pole temperature gradient could have produced weak oceanic circulation and widespread anoxia in the Late Permian ocean. We find that polar warming and tropical cooling of sea-surface temperatures cause anoxia throughout the deep ocean as a result of both lower dissolved oxygen in bottom source waters and increased nutrient utilization. Buildup of quantities of H2S and CO2 in the Late Permian ocean sufficient to directly cause a mass extinction, however, would have required large increases in the oceanic nutrient inventory.

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