Timing and tempo of organic carbon burial in the Monterey Formation of the Santa Barbara Basin and relationships with Miocene climate

Eliel S.C. Anttila, Francis A. Macdonald, Dawid Szymanowski, Blair Schoene, Andrew Kylander-Clark, Clara Danhof, David S. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Understanding the transfer of carbon between Earth's surface reservoirs is necessary for interpreting climate transitions in Earth history and predicting future climate change. Warming associated with the 16.9–14.7 Ma Miocene Climate Optimum and subsequent cooling during the 14.7–13.8 Ma Middle Miocene Climate Transition provide opportunities to study carbon cycle dynamics in the geologically recent past. The Monterey Hypothesis interprets the Middle Miocene Climate Transition cooling as part of a positive feedback in which enhanced organic carbon burial on the eastern Pacific margin drew down atmospheric CO2. This idea has been supported by the correlation of organic-rich deposits in the Monterey Formation in coastal California with the mid-Miocene Monterey Event, a globally-observed positive shift in the δ13C of marine carbonates that may be indicative of elevated burial of δ13C-depleted organic carbon. Here, we use 31 new U-Pb zircon laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry ages and 14 new isotope dilution thermal ionization mass spectrometry ages from volcanic ash beds in the Monterey Formation along the Santa Barbara coast to constrain the timing and tempo of organic carbon mass accumulation in some of the most organic-rich rocks in California. The new age model demonstrates that peaks in organic carbon mass accumulation rate in the Monterey Formation do not coincide with the Monterey Event, and that total organic carbon content in the Miocene Santa Barbara Basin is inversely correlated with sedimentation rate. We propose that changes in organic carbon burial rates in the Monterey Formation were driven by a combination of sea-level change and local tectonically-mediated basin formation, which provided first-order controls on sedimentation rate, and that organic carbon burial in the Monterey Formation is better described as a response to, rather than a driver of, global climate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number118343
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - Oct 15 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


  • Miocene climate
  • Monterey Formation
  • U-Pb geochronology
  • organic carbon burial


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