Sedimentology, Geochemistry, and Geophysics of the Cambrian Earth System

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Sedimentology, Geochemistry, and Geophysics of the Cambrian Earth System

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Title: Sedimentology, Geochemistry, and Geophysics of the Cambrian Earth System
Author: Creveling, Jessica
Citation: Creveling, Jessica. 2012. Sedimentology, Geochemistry, and Geophysics of the Cambrian Earth System. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Within this dissertation, I document how—and hypothesize why—the quirks and qualities of the Cambrian Period demarcate this interval as fundamentally different from the preceding Proterozoic Eon and succeeding periods of the Phanerozoic Eon. To begin, I focus on the anomalous marine deposition of the mineral apatite. Sedimentary sequestration of phosphorus modulates the capacity for marine primary productivity and, thus, the redox state of the Earth system. Moreover, sedimentary apatite minerals may entomb and replicate skeletal and soft-tissue organisms, creating key aspects of the fossil record from which paleontologists deduce the trajectory of animal evolution. I ask what geochemical redox regime promoted the delivery of phosphorus to Cambrian seafloors and conclude that, for the case of the Thorntonia Limestone, apatite nucleation occurred under anoxic, ferruginous subsurface water masses. Moreover, I infer that phosphorus bound to iron minerals precipitated from the water column and organic-bound phosphorus were both important sources of phosphorus to the seafloor. Petrographic observations allow me to reconstruct the early diagenetic pathways that decoupled phosphorus from these delivery shuttles and promoted the precipitation of apatite within the skeletons of small animals. Together, mechanistic understandings of phosphorus delivery to, and retention within, seafloor sediment allow us to constrain hypotheses for the fleeting occurrence of widespread apatite deposition and exquisite fossil preservation within Cambrian sedimentary successions. Next, I describe and quantify the nature of carbonate production on a marine platform deposited at the hypothesized peak of Cambrian skeletal carbonate production. I find that fossils represent conspicuous, but volumetrically subordinate components of early Cambrian carbonate reef ecosystems and that despite the evolution of mineralized skeletons, Cambrian carbonate platforms appear similar to their Neoproterozoic counterparts, primarily reflecting abiotic and microbial deposition. Finally, I investigate the geodynamic mechanism responsible for rapid, oscillatory true polar wander (TPW) events proposed for the Neoproterozoic and Phanerozoic Earth on the basis of paleomagnetic data. Using geodynamic models, I demonstrate that elastic strength in the lithosphere and stable excess ellipticity of Earth’s figure provided sufficient stabilization to return the pole to its original state subsequent to convectively-driven TPW.
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