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Astronomical pacing of methane release in the Early Jurassic period

An Erratum to this article was published on 01 December 2005


A pronounced negative carbon-isotope (δ13C) excursion of 5–7‰ (refs 1–7) indicates the occurrence of a significant perturbation to the global carbon cycle during the Early Jurassic period (early Toarcian age, 183 million years ago). The rapid release of 12C-enriched biogenic methane as a result of continental-shelf methane hydrate dissociation has been put forward as a possible explanation for this observation1,7,8. Here we report high-resolution organic carbon-isotope data from well-preserved mudrocks in Yorkshire, UK, which demonstrate that the carbon-isotope excursion occurred in three abrupt stages, each showing a shift of -2‰ to -3‰. Spectral analysis of these carbon-isotope measurements and of high-resolution carbonate abundance data reveals a regular cyclicity. We interpret these results as providing strong evidence that methane release proceeded in three rapid pulses and that these pulses were controlled by astronomically forced changes in climate, superimposed upon longer-term global warming. We also find that the first two pulses of methane release each coincided with the extinction of a large proportion of marine species9.

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Figure 1: δ 13 C org and CaCO 3 data through lower Toarcian sedimentary deposits.
Figure 2: Spectral analysis of early Toarcian data.


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D.B.K. was supported by a NERC CASE studentship with Bartington Instruments Ltd. We thank colleagues in the Department of Earth Sciences, The Open University, and the Geologisches Institut, Universität zu Köln, for analytical assistance and comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. Author Contributions D.B.K, A.L.C. and A.S.C. collected samples and contributed equally to interpretation. L.S. was responsible for the carbon-isotope analyses.

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Correspondence to David B. Kemp.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Figure S1

Carbon-isotope data across the early Toarcian compiled from various sources, which shows pronounced negative excursions in the δ13C of marine organic compounds, bulk marine organic matter, terrestrial wood material, and marine inorganic carbonate. (PDF 1136 kb)

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Kemp, D., Coe, A., Cohen, A. et al. Astronomical pacing of methane release in the Early Jurassic period. Nature 437, 396–399 (2005).

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