Warming-driven mass extinction in the Early Toarcian (Early Jurassic) of northern and central Spain. Correlation with other time-equivalent European sections

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Causes of the major mass extinction recorded during the Early Toarcian (Early Jurassic) are controversial. Many authors have concluded that the mass extinction is caused by the widespread oceanic anoxia derived from a postulated Early Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event (ETOAE), supposedly synchronous in all basins and global in extent. Another group of papers links the mass extinction with a major climate change that occurred synchronously with the mass extinction. The results of the study of five sections of the uppermost Pliensbachian and Lower–Middle Toarcian deposits, located in northern and central Spain are presented. Detailed ammonite-based biostratigraphy, coupled with stable isotope analysis of belemnite calcite and bulk carbonates, as well as total organic carbon (TOC) analyses have been performed in all sections. Records of the vertical distribution of mainly benthic fossils have been compiled in four of the studied sections. Results obtained in the Spanish outcrops have been compared and correlated with other European sections. The excellent mutual relation between the patterns of the Early Toarcian progressive warming and the concomitant progressive losses of species evidences a cause-and-effect relationship between the increase of temperature and the mass extinction. From an uppermost Pliensbachian cooling interval, warming started at the Lower Toarcian Tenuicostatum Zone. Increase of average seawater palaeotemperature is associated with a progressive and substantial drawdown in the number of species of nektonic, planktonic and benthic organisms, representing the extinction interval. A prominent increase in seawater temperature occurred around the Lower Toarcian Tenuicostatum–Serpentinum zonal boundary. Average temperatures at the Serpentinum Zone increased about 7 °C, marking the extinction boundary. The high temperatures continued during the Middle Toarcian Bifrons Chronozone, representing the repopulation interval. The anoxia linked to the postulated ETOAE cannot be the responsible for the mass extinction, because it has been synchronously recorded in the oxygenated environments of many European and Northern African platforms. Deposition of laminated organic-rich black shale facies, above 5 wt.% TOC indicating anoxic environments, was mostly confined geographically to the Western Europe Euxinic Basin, and mainly deposited after the extinction event, during the interval of faunal recovery.