Precise U-Pb age constraints for end-Triassic mass extinction, its correlation to volcanism and Hettangian post-extinction recovery

Urs Schaltegger, Jean Guex, Annachiara Bartolini, Blair Schoene, Maria Ovtcharova

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New precise zircon U-Pb ages are proposed for the Triassic-Jurassic (Rhetian-Hettangian) and the Hettangian-Sinemurian boundaries. The ages were obtained by ID-TIMS dating of single chemical-abraded zircons from volcanic ash layers within the Pucara Group, Aramachay Formation in the Utcubamba valley, northern Peru. Ash layers situated between last and first occurrences of boundary-defining ammonites yielded 206Pb/238U ages of 201.58 ± 0.17/0.28 Ma (95% c.l., uncertainties without/with decay constant errors, respectively) for the Triassic-Jurassic and of 199.53 ± 0.19 / 0.29 Ma for the Hettangian-Sinemurian boundaries. The former is established on a tuff located 1 m above the last local occurrence of the topmost Triassic genus Choristoceras, and 5 m below the Hettangian genus Psiloceras. The latter sample was obtained from a tuff collected within the Badouxia canadensis beds. Our new ages document total duration of the Hettagian of no more than c. 2 m.y., which has fundamental implications for the interpretation and significance of the ammonite recovery after the topmost Triassic extinction. The U-Pb age is about 0.8 ± 0.5% older than 40Ar-39Ar dates determined on flood basalts of the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP). Given the widely accepted hypothesis that inaccuracies in the 40K decay constants or physical constants create a similar bias between the two dating methods, our new U-Pb zircon age determination for the T/J boundary corroborates the hypothesis that the CAMP was emplaced at the same time and may be responsible for a major climatic turnover and mass extinction. The zircon 206Pb/238U age for the T/J boundary is marginally older than the North Mountain Basalt (Newark Supergroup, Nova Scotia, Canada), which has been dated at 201.27 ± 0.06 Ma [Schoene et al., 2006. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 70, 426-445]. It will be important to look for older eruptions of the CAMP and date them precisely by U-Pb techniques while addressing all sources of systematic uncertainty to further test the hypothesis of volcanic induced climate change leading to extinction. Such high-precision, high-accuracy data will be instrumental for constraining the contemporaneity of geological events at a 100 kyr level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)266-275
Number of pages10
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2008
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Peru
  • Triassic-Jurassic boundary
  • U-Pb dating
  • mass extinction
  • post extinction recovery
  • volcanic ash beds


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