Extreme warming at the end-Permian induced profound changes in marine biogeochemical cycling and animal habitability, leading to the largest metazoan extinction in Earth’s history. However, a causal mechanism for the extinction that is consistent with various proxy records of geochemical conditions through the interval has yet to be determined. Here we combine an Earth system model with global and local redox interpretations from the Permian/Triassic in an attempt to identify this causal mechanism. Our results show that a temperature-driven increase in microbial respiration can reconcile reconstructions of the spatial distribution of euxinia and seafloor anoxia spanning the Permian–Triassic transition. We illustrate how enhanced metabolic rates would have strengthened upper-ocean nutrient (phosphate) recycling, and thus shoaled and intensified the oxygen minimum zones, eventually causing euxinic waters to expand onto continental shelves and poison benthic habitats. Taken together, our findings demonstrate the sensitive interconnections between temperature, microbial metabolism, ocean redox state and carbon cycling during the end-Permian mass extinction. As enhanced microbial activity in the ocean interior also lowers subsurface dissolved inorganic carbon isotopic values, the carbon release as inferred from isotope changes in shallow subsurface carbonates is likely overestimated, not only for this event, but perhaps for many other carbon cycle and climate perturbations through Earth’s history.
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The locations of all data used in this study are provided in the Supplementary Information.
The version of the code used in this paper is tagged as release v0.9.15 and has a DOI of https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4008865. Necessary boundary condition files are included as part of the code release. Configuration files for the specific experiments presented in the paper can be found in the installation subdirectory: genie-userconfigs/MS/huelseetal.2020. Details of the experiments, plus the command line needed to run each one, are given in the readme.txt file in that directory. A manual describing code installation, basic model configuration and an extensive series of tutorials is provided. The LaTeX source of the manual and pre-built PDF file can be obtained by cloning (https://github.com/derpycode/muffindoc).
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D.H. is supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Simons Foundation (award 653829) and a Heising-Simons Foundation grant (no. 2015-145). K.V.L. acknowledges a Agouron Geobiology Fellowship and S.J.v.d.V. a NASA Postdoctoral Program fellowship. A.R. acknowledges support from the Heising-Simons Foundation (grant no. 2015-145) as well as NSF grant EAR-2121165.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature Geoscience thanks Karin Kvale, Martin Schobben and Yadong Sun for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary handling editor(s): James Super.
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Sensitivity of uranium forward model to changes in seafloor anoxia (fanox). The model is run as described in Fig. 1, with varying of fanox assumed for the first perturbation surrounding the P/Tr. Compilation of δ238U data (colored symbols as in Fig. 1) includes stratigraphic sections from Dajiang, Zuodeng, Guandao and Daxiakou in south China located along the eastern margin of the Tethys11,49,50 (circles represent shallow and triangles deeper sites); Zal in Iran and Taşkent in Turkey from the western margin of the Tethys11,19 (squares); Jesmond in British Columbia, Canada located at the eastern margin of the Panthalassa Ocean49 (orange diamonds); and Kamura in Japan from a shallow atoll in the mid-Panthalassa Ocean51 (red diamonds).
Extended Data Fig. 2 cGENIE Permian/Triassic bathymetry and paleogeographic locations of redox observations.
cGENIE Permian/Triassic bathymetry and paleogeographic locations of redox observations as reported in Extended Data Table 1. SC-S: South China (Shangsi); SC-M: South China (Meishan).
Extended Data Fig. 3 Ocean redox conditions during the P/Tr transition using the ‘static’ cGENIE model.
Ocean redox conditions during the P/Tr transition using the ‘static’ cGENIE model. Top: Simulated maximum H2S concentration between 81 and 928m. Middle: Depth where the maximum in [H2S] is observed. Bottom: Simulated extent of seafloor anoxia. Model results for [H2S] and [O2] are superimposed by observations: Evidence for euxinia/anoxia is represented by circles; evidence against by crosses; ambiguous evidence or dynamic redox-conditions are indicated by triangles (see Extended Data Table 1).
Extended Data Fig. 4 Water column profiles for carbon isotope signature of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) using the dynamic biological pump.
Water column profiles for carbon isotope signature of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) using the dynamic biological pump. Profiles for the experiments restoring atmospheric pCO2 and δ13C to prescribed values (a); and experiments allowing for variable atmospheric pCO2 and δ13C while adjusting radiative forcing (b). Note that the profiles are the unadjusted model results, that is not corrected for the weighted mean of the C-pools nor shifted to align with the ‘Permian background’ value. Shown are profiles for the warmer, eastern equatorial Tethys Ocean (red dashed box in Supplementary Fig. 1).
Observations for water-column redox conditions for Late Permian background (Phase 1), Pre-Extinction Horizon (Phase 2) and Main Extinction Phase (Phase 3). Ambiguous evidence or dynamic redox-conditions are indicated by ‘Yes?’.
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Hülse, D., Lau, K.V., van de Velde, S.J. et al. End-Permian marine extinction due to temperature-driven nutrient recycling and euxinia. Nat. Geosci. 14, 862–867 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-021-00829-7