PNAS: A lead isotope perspective on urban development in ancient Naples

A lead isotope perspective on urban development in ancient Naples

Hugo Delile, Duncan Keenan-Jones, Janne Blichert-Toft, Jean-Philippe Goiran, Florent Arnaud-Godet, Paola Romano and Francis Albarède

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2016: doi: 10.1073/pnas.1600893113

A well-dated sedimentary sequence from the ancient harbor of Naples sheds new light on an old problem: could the great AD 79 Vesuvius eruption have affected the water supply of the cities around the Bay of Naples? We here show, using Pb isotopes, that this volcanic catastrophe not only destroyed the urban lead pipe water supply network, but that it took the Roman administration several decades to replace it, and that the commissioning of the new system, once built, occurred nearly instantaneously. Moreover, discontinuities in the Pb isotopic record of the harbor deposits prove a powerful tool for tracking both Naples’ urbanization and later major conflicts at the end of the Roman period and in early Byzantine times.

NATURE GEOSCIENCE: Two step rise of atmospheric oxygen

Two-step rise of atmospheric oxygen linked to the growth of continents

Cin-Ty A. Lee, Laurence Y. Yeung, N. Ryan McKenzie, Yusuke Yokoyama, Kazumi Ozaki, & Adrian Lenardic

Nature Geoscience (2016) doi:10.1038/ngeo2707

Earth owes its oxygenated atmosphere to its unique claim on life, but how the atmosphere evolved from an initially oxygen-free state remains unresolved. The rise of atmospheric oxygen occurred in two stages: approximately 2.5 to 2.0 billion years ago during the Great Oxidation Event and roughly 2 billion years later during the Neoproterozoic Oxygenation Event. We propose that the formation of continents about 2.7 to 2.5 billion years ago, perhaps due to the initiation of plate tectonics, may have led to oxygenation by the following mechanisms. In the first stage, the change in composition of Earth’s crust from iron- and magnesium-rich mafic rocks to feldspar- and quartz-rich felsic rocks could have caused a decrease in the oxidative efficiency of the Earth’s surface, allowing atmospheric O2 to rise. Over the next billion years, as carbon steadily accumulated on the continents, metamorphic and magmatic reactions within this growing continental carbon reservoir facilitated a gradual increase in the total long-term input of CO2 to the ocean–atmosphere system. Given that O2 is produced during organic carbon burial, the increased CO2 input may have triggered a second rise in O2. A two-step rise in atmospheric O2 may therefore be a natural consequence of plate tectonics, continent formation and the growth of a crustal carbon reservoir.


NATURE: Fault-controlled hydration of the upper mantle during continental rifting

Fault-controlled hydration of the upper mantle during continental rifting

Nature Geoscience 9,384–388doi:10.1038/ngeo2671

G. Bayrakci, T. A. Minshull, D. S. Sawyer, T. J. Reston, D. Klaeschen, C. Papenberg, C. Ranero, J. M. Bull, R. G. Davy, D. J. Shillington, M. Perez-Gussinye, J. K. Morgan

Water and carbon are transferred from the ocean to the mantle in a process that alters mantle peridotite to create serpentinite and supports diverse ecosystems1. Serpentinized mantle rocks are found beneath the sea floor at slow- to ultraslow-spreading mid-ocean ridges and are thought to be present at about half the worlds rifted margins. Serpentinite is also inferred to exist in the downgoing plate at subduction zones, where it may trigger arc magmatism or hydrate the deep Earth. Water is thought to reach the mantle via active faults. Here we show that serpentinization at the rifted continental margin offshore from western Spain was probably initiated when the whole crust cooled to become brittle and deformation was focused along large normal faults. We use seismic tomography to image the three-dimensional distribution of serpentinization in the mantle and find that the local volume of serpentinite beneath thinned, brittle crust is related to the amount of displacement along each fault. This implies that sea water reaches the mantle only when the faults are active. We estimate the fluid flux along the faults and find it is comparable to that inferred for mid-ocean ridge hydrothermal systems. We conclude that brittle processes in the crust may ultimately control the global flux of sea water into the Earth.

SCIENCE: Continental Arc Volcanism driving greenhouse-icehouse variability

Continental arc volcanism as the principal driver of icehouse-greenhouse variability

N. Ryan McKenzie, Brian K. Horton, Shannon E. Loomis, Daniel F. Stockli, Noah J. Planavsky,Cin-Ty A. Lee

Science  22 Apr 2016: Vol. 352, Issue 6284, pp. 444-447, DOI: 10.1126/science.aad5787
Variations in continental volcanic arc emissions have the potential to control atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and climate change on multimillion-year time scales. Here we present a compilation of ~120,000 detrital zircon uranium-lead (U-Pb) ages from global sedimentary deposits as a proxy to track the spatial distribution of continental magmatic arc systems from the Cryogenian period to the present. These data demonstrate a direct relationship between global arc activity and major climate shifts: Widespread continental arcs correspond with prominent early Paleozoic and Mesozoic greenhouse climates, whereas reduced continental arc activity corresponds with icehouse climates of the Cryogenian, Late Ordovician, late Paleozoic, and Cenozoic. This persistent coupled behavior provides evidence that continental volcanic outgassing drove long-term shifts in atmospheric CO2 levels over the past ~720 million years.

PNAS: Widespread collapse of the Ross Ice Shelf during the late Holocene

Widespread collapse of the Ross Ice Shelf during the late Holocene

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 113 no. 9, 2354–2359, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1516908113

Yusuke Yokoyama*, John B. Anderson, Masako Yamane, Lauren M. Simkins, Yosuke Miyairi, Takahiro Yamazaki, Mamito Koizumi, Hisami Suga, Kazuya Kusahara, Lindsay Prothro, Hiroyasu Hasumi, John R. Southon, and Naohiko Ohkouchi


The stability of modern ice shelves is threatened by atmospheric and oceanic warming. The geologic record of formerly glaciated continental shelves provides a window into the past of how ice shelves responded to a warming climate. Fields of deep (−560 m), linear iceberg furrows on the outer, western Ross Sea continental shelf record an early post-Last Glacial Maximum episode of ice-shelf collapse that was followed by continuous retreat of the grounding line for ∼200 km. Runaway grounding line conditions culminated once the ice became pinned on shallow banks in the western Ross Sea. This early episode of ice-shelf collapse is not observed in the eastern Ross Sea, where more episodic grounding line retreat took place. More widespread (∼280,000 km2) retreat of the ancestral Ross Ice Shelf occurred during the late Holocene. This event is recorded in sediment cores by a shift from terrigenous glacimarine mud to diatomaceous open-marine sediment as well as an increase in radiogenic beryllium (10Be) concentrations. The timing of ice-shelf breakup is constrained by compound specific radiocarbon ages, the first application of this technique systematically applied to Antarctic marine sediments. Breakup initiated around 5 ka, with the ice shelf reaching its current configuration ∼1.5 ka. In the eastern Ross Sea, the ice shelf retreated up to 100 km in about a thousand years. Three-dimensional thermodynamic ice-shelf/ocean modeling results and comparison with ice-core records indicate that ice-shelf breakup resulted from combined atmospheric warming and warm ocean currents impinging onto the continental shelf.

*Weiss Visiting Professor, 2015

Link to article in PNAS

Impacts of biochar concentration and particle size on hydraulic conductivity and DOC leaching of biochar–sand mixtures

Zuolin Liu, Brandon Dugan, Caroline A. Masiello, Rebecca T. Barnes, Morgan E. Gallagher, Helge Gonnermann

PDF located here


The amendment of soil with biochar can sequester carbon and alter hydrologic properties by changing physical and chemical characteristics of soil. To understand the effect of biochar amendment on soil hydrology, we measured the hydraulic conductivity (K) of biochar–sand mixtures as well as dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in leachate. Specifically, we assessed the effects of biochar concentration and particle size on K and amount of DOC in the soil leachate. To better understand how physical properties influenced K, we also measured the skeletal density of biochars and sand, and the bulk density, the water saturation, and the porosity of biochar–sand mixtures. Our model soil was sand (0.251–0.853 mm) with biochar rates from 2 to 10 wt% (g biochar/g total soil 100%). As biochar (<0.853 mm) concentration increased from 0 to 10 wt%, K decreased by 72 ± 3%.

When biochar particle size was equal to, greater than, and less than particle size of sand, we found that biochar in different particle sizes have different effects on K. For a 2 wt% biochar rate, K decreased by 72 ± 2% when biochar particles were finer than sand particles, and decreased by 15 ± 2% when biochar particles were coarser than sand particles. When biochar and sand particle size were comparable, we observed no significant effect on K. We propose that the decrease of K through the addition of fine biochar was because finer biochar particles filled spaces between sand particles, which increased tortuosity and reduced pore throat size of the mixture. The decrease of K associated with coarser biochar was caused by the bimodal particle size distribution, resulting in more compact packing and increased tortuosity.

The loss of biochar C as DOC was related to both biochar rate and particle size. The cumulative DOC loss was 1350% higher from 10 wt% biochar compared to pure sand. This large increase reflected the very small DOC yield from pure sand. In addition, DOC in the leachate decreased as biochar particle size increased. For all treatments, the fraction of carbon lost as DOC ranged from 0.06 to 0.18 wt% of biochar. These experiments suggest that mixing sandy soils with biochar is likely to reduce infiltration rates, holding water near the surface longer with little loss of biochar-derived carbon to groundwater and streams.

Role of arc magmatism and lower crustal foundering in controlling elevation history of the Nevadaplano and Colorado Plateau: A case study of pyroxenitic lower crust from central Arizona, USA

Monica Erdman, Cin-Ty Lee, Alan Levander, Hehe Jiang

PDF located here


Garnet–pyroxenite xenoliths from a 25 Ma volcano on the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau in central Arizona (USA) are shown here to have crystallized as deep-seated cumulates from hydrous arc magmas, requiring the generation of a large complement of felsic magmas. U–Pb dating of primary titanite grains indicates that crystallization probably occurred around 60 Ma. These observations suggest that voluminous arc magmatism reached as far inland as the edge of the Colorado Plateau during the Laramide orogeny. Here, we employ a combination of petrology, petrophysics, and seismic imaging to show that the formation and subsequent removal of a thick, dense, cumulate root beneath the ancient North American Nevadaplano modified the buoyancy of the orogenic plateau, possibly resulting in two uplift events. A late Cretaceous–early Tertiary uplift event should have occurred in conjunction with thickening of the crust by felsic magmatism. Additional uplift is predicted if the pyroxenite root later foundered, but such uplift must have occurred after ∼25 Ma, the age of the xenolith host. We show that seismic velocity anomalies and seismic structures in the central part of the Colorado Plateau could represent pyroxenitic layers that still reside there. However, under the southern and western margins of the Colorado Plateau, the seismic signatures of a pyroxenite root are missing, despite xenolith records and geochemical evidence for their existence prior to 25 Ma. We suggest that these particular regions have undergone recent removal of the pyroxenite root, leading to late uplift of the plateau. In summary, our observations suggest that the Nevadaplano, west of the Colorado Plateau and now represented by the Basin and Range province, was underlain by high elevations in the late Cretaceous through early Tertiary due to magmatic thickening. This may have facilitated an east-directed drainage pattern at this time. Subsequent collapse of the Nevadaplano, culminating in Basin and Range extension and coupled with delamination-induced uplift of the margins of the Colorado Plateau in the late Cenozoic, may have reversed this drainage pattern, allowing rivers to flow west, as they do today.

Chemical and Isotopic Thresholds in Charring: Implications for the Interpretation of Charcoal Mass and Isotopic Data

Chemical and Isotopic Thresholds in Charring: Implications for the Interpretation of Charcoal Mass and Isotopic Data

Lacey A. Pyle, William C. Hockaday, Thomas Boutton, Kyriacos Zygourakis, Timothy J. Kinney, and Caroline A. Masiello

Charcoal plays a significant role in the long-term carbon cycle, and its use as a soil amendment is promoted as a C sequestration strategy (biochar). One challenge in this research area is understanding the heterogeneity of charcoal properties. Although the maximum reaction temperature is often used as a gauge of pyrolysis conditions, pyrolysis duration also changes charcoal physicochemical qualities. Here, we introduce a formal definition of charring intensity (CI) to more accurately characterize pyrolysis, and we document variation in charcoal chemical properties with variation in CI. We find two types of responses to CI: either linear or threshold relationships. Mass yield decreases linearly with CI, while a threshold exists across which % C, % N, and δ15N exhibit large changes. This CI threshold co-occurs with an increase in charcoal aromaticity. C isotopes do not change from original biomass values, supporting the use of charcoal δ13C signatures to infer paleoecological conditions. Fractionation of N isotopes indicates that fire may be enriching soils in 15N through pyrolytic N isotope fractionation. This influx of “black N” could have a significant impact on soil N isotopes, which we show theoretically using a simple mass-balance model.

Deformation of Indian Ocean lithosphere: Evidence for a highly nonlinear rheological law

The rise and fall of continental arcs