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Organic carbon sequestration and environmental change during the mid-Cretaceous: biogeochemical studies of outcrop pelagic sediments from the Vocontian Basin, SE France


The mid-Cretaceous 'greenhouse' world, characterised by high atmospheric carbon dioxide levels (3-8 times the pre-industrial values), also experienced widespread deposition of marine sediments anomalously rich in organic carbon. This was due to the presence of oxygen-defficient conditions in the ocean and/or high fluxes of organic matter to the sea floor.

The term "oceanic anoxic events" (OAEs) has been coined in the literature to collectively describe such events. The Cenomanian/Turonian boundary interval (C/T, circa 93.5 Ma) records a classic example of an OAE, which resulted in one of the largest perturbations of the carbon cycle in Earth history. This event is revealed by large, positive carbon-isotope excursions in both inorganic and organic carbon worldwide, due to extensive sedimentary burial of organic matter.

Unfortunately, complete C/T sedimentary records required for high-resolution studies are relatively rare and, when available, they commonly suffer from a number of limitations. Preliminary investigations of outcrop sedimentary rocks from the Vocontian Basin, France, has provided new potential for further research on the causes and consequences of the C/T OAE.

We propose to undertake detailed, high-resolution studies on samples from the above location, using organic geochemical methods at a molecular level. These will allow advanced insight into this major episode of global change in the Cretaceous, with emphasis on the functioning of global biogeochemical cycles, possible feed-back mechanisms and, as a response, the evolution and extinction of different life forms.

The proposed project will involve a close collaboration between a leading European Marine Research Institute (NIOZ, the Netherlands) and a promising scientist from Greece (Dr Harilaos Tsikos) with a proven track record in geological research. It contains all basic elements for scientific advancement and promotion of research excellence in a European context.

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