ITALIAN GEOLOGY AND CLIMATE CHANGE IN THE DEEP PAST

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Hugh C. Jenkyns *
(*) Autore principale:
Hugh C. Jenkyns | hugh.jenkyns@earth.ox.ac.uk

Abstract

Mesozoic sedimentary rocks, of both deep- and shallow-water character, are present throughout Italy and well exposed in mountains and river valleys. Detailed studies of these sections by Italian geologists, beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing to this day, have produced a high-resolution biostratigraphy that allows identification of increments of geological time of less than a million years. Early work relied largely on ammonites to define biostratigraphy but was applicable primarily to sediments of Jurassic age. Study of deep-marine pelagic limestones and shales of Cretaceous age were subsequently, in the twentieth century, investigated using planktonic microfossils, the size of a sand grain, and even smaller nannofossils of micron scale. Pioneering work on magnetostratigraphy and cyclostratigraphy, undertaken primarily on Cretaceous sediments cropping out in Marche-Umbria, added further refinement to the measuring of small intervals of time in rock. With this stratigraphic background, distinct lithological and chemical signals, discovered first in Italian sequences, could be recognized world-wide and proven to be of global significance. In particular, the involvement of carbon isotopes has underscored the utility of chemostratigraphy, not only as a further aid to correlation, but also as a testimonial to major environmental change. Most significant in this context are the Cretaceous oceanic anoxic events, whose sedimentary record was first documented from Italy. These events were characterized by the development of organic-rich black shales deposited in waters largely lacking in oxygen during times of extraordinarily high temperatures known as hyperthermals. Hyperthermals, likely driven by supply of carbon dioxide from large-scale volcanic eruptions, illustrate the environmental impact on a planet affected by extreme global warming.


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