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    Neoproterozoic seas: ocean chemistry and marine carbonate mineralogy
    HOOD, ASHLEIGH ( 2014)
    The step-wise oxygenation of the ocean-atmosphere system is arguably one of the most profound processes in Earth history, affecting most surficial Earth processes. The last major oxygenation of the oceans is believed to have occurred in the Neoproterozoic Oxygenation Event (~800-540 Ma), and is implicated as a trigger for the rise of animal life. However, the timing of this event is not well constrained, both due to geochronological problems with Neoproterozoic stratigraphy; and because of the inherent uncertainty in ocean oxygenation proxies. Furthermore, there is now evidence for a more complex Neoproterozoic ocean chemical history, including return to strongly anoxic and ferruginous conditions. An additional complication in the understanding of Precambrian marine environments is the abundance of dolomite in Proterozoic successions. A recently discovered series of dolomitic reef complexes in the Neoproterozoic Adelaide Fold Belt, Australia, and Otavi Belt, Namibia, improve our understanding of Precambrian marine conditions. Stratigraphic and petrological analysis suggests that synsedimentary marine dolomite precipitation was pervasive within these reefs. Newly described dolomite cements have optical properties, chemical zonation and cathodoluminescent characteristics indicating that they were direct marine precipitates. Dolomite precipitation during marine diagenesis in these reef complexes suggests that the oceans of the Cryogenian were chemically different to those of the Phanerozoic. Marine dolomite precipitation appears to be linked to anoxic, magnesium-rich ocean conditions. These newly documented primary marine dolomite cements preserve information about conditions in the parent seawater via their petrographic properties and geochemistry. Being constrained by sedimentology, carbonate geochemistry provides a window into Cryogenian ocean chemistry and structure. Geochemical results reveal a pronounced chemical stratification where a thin veneer of oxic surface waters existed above a peritidal redoxcline with anoxic, strongly ferruginous seawater at depth. These conditions describe a ferro-sulfidic ocean and encompass some of the most extreme anoxia yet documented during the late Precambrian. A return to Archean-like ocean conditions at this time suggests large-scale disruption of the ocean system during the Neoproterozoic. These conditions may be linked to extreme climatic fluctuations at this time, perhaps induced by ocean stratification in this Neoproterozoic ‘Stagnant Earth’. When analysed in stratigraphic framework, variations in carbonate mineralogy provide a record of ocean oxygenation during the Neoproterozoic. New sedimentological and stratigraphic constraints for the Namibian Otavi Belt provides a context for this variation and has also led to the discovery of new Cryogenian reef complexes. When correlated with the Adelaidian succession, the distribution of marine cements in these sequences reflects changing seawater conditions. Pre-Sturtian, Neoproterozoic oceans precipitated both dolomite and aragonite and developed widespread marine anoxia prior to glaciation. Interglacial Cryogenian oceans were extremely anoxic and ferruginous, with widespread dolomite precipitation. In contrast, late Cryogenian and Ediacaran oceans hosted abundant aragonite precipitation recording a gradual decline in marine dolomitisation. The deepening of the oceanic chemocline during this interval suggests that these seas were likely to have been moderately oxygenated, paving the way for the large-scale radiation of animal life.