A transient peak in marine sulfate after the 635-Ma snowball Earth

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National Academy of Sciences


A series of dramatic oceanic and atmospheric events occurred in the immediate aftermath of the Marinoan “snowball Earth” meltdown ∼635 My ago. However, at the 10-to 100-ky timescale, the order, rate, duration, and causal-feedback relationships of these individual events remain nebulous. Nonetheless, rapid swings in regional marine sulfate concentrations are predicted to have occurred in the aftermath of a snowball Earth, due to the nonlinear responses of its two major controlling fluxes: oxidative weathering on the continents and pyrite burial in marine sediments. Here, through the application of multiple isotope systems on various carbon and sulfur compounds, we determined extremely 13C-depleted calcite cements in the basal Ediacaran in South China to be the result of microbial sulfate reduction coupled to anaerobic oxidation of methane, which indicates an interval of high sulfate concentrations in some part of the postmeltdown ocean. Regional chemostratigraphy places the 13C-depleted cements at the equivalent of the earliest Ediacaran 17O-depletion episode, thus confining the timing of this peak in sulfate concentrations within ∼50 ky since the onset of the deglaciation. The dearth of similarly 13C-depleted cements in other Proterozoic successions implies that the earliest Ediacaran peak in marine sulfate concentration is a regional and likely transient event.



snowball Earth, oxidation, sulfate, O-17 anomaly, methane oxidation