A new interpretation of existing carbon isotopic data combined with results from a biogeochemical model suggests that burning of terrestrial biomass occurred on a global scale at the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary. Carbon isotopic ratios from planktonic and benthic microfossils across the K-T boundary reveal not only a breakdown in the normal surface-water to deep-water gradient of 13C/12C, but also a reversal at the boundary. This reversal cannot be explained by the cessation off primary production alone. We propose that combustion of terrestrial biomass with subsequent transfer of isotopically light carbon to surface waters is the most likely cause of this anomaly. A biogeochemical model is used to quantify the extent of burning at the boundary. combustion of roughly 25% of the above-ground biomass at the end of the Cretaceous is necessary to account for the observed isotopic signal.

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