Biogeodynamics of Cretaceous marine carbonate production

Thomas Steuber, Hannes Löser, Joerg Mutterlose, Mariano Parente

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


We have compiled stratigraphic ranges of genera of calcareous nannofossils, calcispheres, planktonic foraminifers, larger benthic foraminifers, corals and rudists bivalves, and species of dasycladalean green algae. These taxa comprise the main planktonic and benthic carbonate producers of the Cretaceous, a period of exceptionally high sea level and palaeotemperatures that was characterized by unique assemblages of benthic carbonate producers and the significant rise in pelagic carbonate sedimentation. The autecology, physiological control on calcification, and carbonate-production potential of these groups is summarized. The observed diversity patterns are compared with proxy data of Cretaceous climate and seawater chemistry to elucidate the effect of environmental change on carbonate production and sedimentation. Two characteristic patterns are recognized. Diversity of calcareous nannofossils, calcispheres, planktonic foraminifers and corals trace the evolution of Cretaceous sea-level, while the diversity of dasycladalean algae, larger benthic foraminifers, corals and rudist bivalves show significant reductions at the level of oceanic anoxic events (OAEs). Benthic carbonate producers except for corals thus appear to have been more vulnerable to environmental change, and these general patterns appear to be unrelated to the autecology of the taxa investigated. The expansion of suitable habitats during episodes of high sea level and high temperatures appears to have been a more important control of diversity in calcareous nannofossils, planktonic foraminifers, and corals than changes in seawater chemistry. Aragonitic or aragonite-dominated benthic carbonate producers are most affected during extinction events related to OAEs, and there is a general trend of decreasing aragonite dominance throughout the Cretaceous. This is compensated by the extensive formation of calcitic hemipelagic chalk since the Cenomanian. The trend of decreasing aragonite dominance is independent of the level of biological control on calcification in the different taxa affected. The demise of aragonitic or aragonite-dominated carbonate producers at OAE1a (early Aptian) and OAE2 (Cenomanian–Turonian boundary interval) may be related to short episodes of reduced seawater carbonate-saturation caused by short-lived injections of CO2 from large igneous provinces that initiated OAEs. For OAE1a, this scenario also explains the retreat of carbonate platforms to low latitudes in the early Aptian, as sea-surface water typically has a higher carbonate saturation in warm, lower than in cooler, higher latitude waters. The gradual decrease of aragonite throughout the Cretaceous matches model simulations of seawater carbonate-saturation. An increase in the relative number of azooxanthellate coral genera following OAE1a and OAE2 suggests a disruption of photosymbiosis in the course of these global events due to high temperatures. However, the relative numbers of azooxanthellate genera continued to increase during the Late Cretaceous, when global temperatures declined. Due to the short residence time of major nutrients in seawater, these may have affected carbonate-producing ecosystems regionally. The recent patterns of benthic carbonate production being highest in oligotrophic environments cannot confidently be extrapolated to the Cretaceous. Our database records ranges of genera at the substage level. Higher-resolution stratigraphical studies of neritic carbonate sequences are required to understand what aspect of environmental change in the sequence of events that unfolded in the context of OAEs caused the demise of benthic carbonate producers.

Original languageBritish English
Article number104341
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • Aragonite
  • Benthos
  • Calcite
  • Diversity
  • Environment
  • Plankton


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