Abstract

High-precision isotope-dilution U-Pb (zircon) dating was conducted on three volcanic ash fall (bentonite) samples from the Swedish island of Gotland, and on a fourth bentonite from the West Midlands, England. Zircons from the Ireviken, Grötlingbo, Djupvik (Gotland), and Wren’s Nest Hill-15 (West Midlands) bentonites yielded weighted mean 206Pb/238U ages of 431.83 ± 0.23/0.67 Ma, 428.45 ± 0.35/0.73 Ma, 428.06 ± 0.21/0.66 Ma, and 427.86 ± 0.32/0.71 Ma, respectively (analytical/total uncertainties). These biostratigraphically well-controlled age dates effectively bracket the Wenlock Epoch of the Silurian Period and provide control for the duration of one of the major Paleozoic biotic events and associated perturbations to the global carbon cycle (the “Big Crisis” or lundgreni event—graptolites; the Mulde Event—conodonts; the Mulde excursion—carbon isotopes). These new data suggest an older and shorter duration for the recalibration of the Wenlock Series and demonstrate that the cascade of biological and chemical events that took place during the Big Crisis happened on time scales of tens to hundreds of thousands of years.

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