Thallium-isotopic compositions of euxinic sediments as a proxy for global manganese-oxide burial

Jeremy D. Owens, Sune G. Nielsen, Tristan J. Horner, Chadlin M. Ostrander, Larry C. Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Thallium (Tl) isotopes are a new and potentially powerful paleoredox proxy that may track bottom water oxygen conditions based on the global burial flux of manganese oxides. Thallium has a residence time of ∼20 thousand years, which is longer than the ocean mixing time, and it has been inferred that modern oxic seawater is conservative with respect to both concentration and isotopes. Marine sources of Tl have nearly identical isotopic values. Therefore, the Tl sinks, adsorption onto manganese oxides and low temperature oceanic crust alteration (the dominant seawater output), are the primary controls of the seawater isotopic composition. For relatively short-term, ∼million years, redox events it is reasonable to assume that the dominant mechanism that alters the Tl isotopic composition of seawater is associated with manganese oxide burial because large variability in low temperature ocean crust alteration is controlled by long-term, multi-million years, average ocean crust production rates. This study presents new Tl isotope data for an open ocean transect in the South Atlantic, and depth transects for two euxinic basins (anoxic and free sulfide in the water column), the Cariaco Basin and Black Sea. The Tl isotopic signature of open ocean seawater in the South Atlantic was found to be homogeneous with ε205Tl = −6.0 ± 0.3 (±2 SD, n = 41) while oxic waters from Cariaco and the Black Sea are −5.6 and −2.2, respectively. Combined with existing data from the Pacific and Arctic Oceans, our Atlantic data establish the conservatism of Tl isotopes in the global ocean. In contrast, partially- and predominantly-restricted basins reveal Tl isotope differences that vary between open-ocean (−6) and continental material (−2) ε205Tl, scaling with the degree of restriction. Regardless of the differences between basins, Tl is quantitatively removed from their euxinic waters below the chemocline. The burial of Tl in euxinic sediments is estimated to be an order of magnitude less than each of the modern ocean outputs and imparts no isotopic fractionation. Thallium removal into pyrite appears to be associated with a small negative fractionation between −1 and −3 ε205Tl, which renders Tl-depleted waters below the chemocline enriched in isotopically-heavy Tl. Due to the quantitative removal of Tl from euxinic seawater, Tl isotope analyses of the authigenic fraction of underlying euxinic sediments from both the Black Sea and Cariaco Basin capture the Tl isotope value of the oxic portion of their respective water column with no net isotope fractionation. Since the Tl isotope composition of seawater is largely dictated by the relative fraction of Mn-oxide burial versus oceanic crust alteration, we contend that the Tl isotope composition of authigenic Tl in black shales, deposited under euxinic conditions but well-connected to the open ocean, can be utilized to reconstruct the Tl isotope composition of seawater, and thus to reconstruct the global history of Mn-oxide burial.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)291-307
Number of pages17
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
StatePublished - Sep 15 2017


  • Anoxia
  • Global redox
  • Reducing
  • Seawater
  • Tl
  • Toarcian

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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