Until recently the biotic crisis that occurred within the Capitanian Stage (Middle Permian, ca. 262 Ma) was known only from equatorial (Tethyan) latitudes and its global extent was poorly resolved. The discovery of a Boreal Capitanian crisis in Spitsbergen, with losses of similar magnitude to those in low latitudes, indicated that the event was geographically widespread, but further non-Tethyan records are needed to confirm this as a true mass extinction. The cause of this crisis is similarly controversial: whilst the temporal coincidence of the extinction and the onset of volcanism in the Emeishan large igneous province in China provides a clear link between those phenomena, the proximal kill mechanism is unclear. Here we present an integrated fossil, pyrite framboid and geochemical study of the Middle to Late Permian of the Sverdrup Basin at Borup Fiord (Ellesmere Island, Arctic Canada). As in Spitsbergen, the Capitanian extinction is recorded by brachiopods in a chert / limestone succession 30-40 m below the Permian-Triassic boundary. The extinction level sees elevated concentrations of redox-sensitive trace metals (Mo, V, U, Mn) and contemporary pyrite framboid populations are dominated by small individuals, suggestive of a causal role for anoxia in the wider Boreal crisis. Mercury concentrations – a proxy for volcanism – are generally low throughout the succession but are elevated at the extinction level, and this spike withstands normalization to total organic carbon, total sulfur, and aluminum. We suggest this is the smoking gun of eruptions in the distant Emeishan large igneous province, which drove high-latitude anoxia via global warming. Although the global Capitanian extinction might have had different regional mechanisms, like the more famous extinction at the end of the Permian, each had its roots in large igneous province volcanism.
Bond, D., Wignall, P., & Grasby, S. (in press). The Capitanian (Guadalupian, Middle Permian) mass extinction in NW Pangaea (Borup Fiord, Arctic Canada): a global crisis driven by volcanism and anoxia. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 132(5-6), 931–942