Osmium and lithium isotope evidence for weathering feedbacks linked to orbitally paced organic carbon burial and Silurian glaciations

Adam D. Sproson, Philip A.E. Pogge von Strandmann, David Selby, Emilia Jarochowska, Jiří Frýda, Jindřich Hladil, David K. Loydell, Ladislav Slavík, Mikael Calner, Georg Maier, Axel Munnecke, Timothy M. Lenton

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The Ordovician (∼487 to 443 Ma) ended with the formation of extensive Southern Hemisphere ice sheets, known as the Hirnantian glaciation, and the second largest mass extinction in Earth History. It was followed by the Silurian (∼443 to 419 Ma), one of the most climatically unstable periods of the Phanerozoic as evidenced by several large scale (› 5‰) carbon isotope (δ13C) perturbations associated with further extinction events. Despite several decades of research, the cause of these environmental instabilities remains enigmatic. Here, we provide osmium (187Os/188Os) and lithium (δ7Li) isotope measurements of marine sedimentary rocks that cover four Silurian δ13C excursions. Osmium and Li isotope records resemble those previously recorded for the Hirnantian glaciation suggesting a similar causal mechanism. When combined with a new dynamic carbon-osmium-lithium biogeochemical model we suggest that astronomical forcing of the marine organic carbon cycle, as opposed to a decline in volcanic arc degassing or the rise of early land plants, resulted in drawdown of atmospheric CO2, triggering continental scale glaciation, intense global cooling and eustatic sea-level lows recognised in the geological record. Lower atmospheric pCO2 and temperatures during the Hirnantian and Silurian glaciations suppressed CO2 removal by silicate weathering, driving 187Os/188Os and δ7Li variability, supporting the existence of climate-regulating feedbacks.
Original languageEnglish
Article number117260
Number of pages13
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Early online date4 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • osmium (187Os/188Os) and lithium (δ7Li) isotopes
  • Silurian palaeoclimate
  • Hirnantian glaciation
  • orbital obliquity
  • eccentricity and precession
  • silicate weathering
  • UKRI
  • NERC
  • NE/N018508/1
  • NE/P013651/1


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