The Barremian and Aptianwere times of global plate reconfiguration and profound changes in the ocean–climate system, culminating in the worldwide deposition of lower Aptian black shale layers (OAE 1a). Based on high resolution lithostratigraphic and micropaleontological analyses, precursor conditions and timing of the anoxia are here reconstructed along a 33.06 m thick section in the proposed Barremian/Aptian boundary GSSP stratotype at Gorgo a Cerbara (Umbria–Marche Basin, Italy).
A non-uniform history of benthic foraminiferal diversification is interrupted by the Selli Level (= OAE 1a) and by three turnover points for both benthic and planktic organisms, each highlighted by prominent breaks in lithology and outcrop morphology. The first two points, at ~1.1 Myr and ~20–50 kyr prior to the onset of the OAE 1a, correspond respectively to the nannoconid (=bathypelagic calcareous nannofossils) ‘decline’ and ‘crisis’ events, and separate: (a) pelagic limestone/chert-claystone lithological cycles of the uppermost Maiolica Formation, showing frequencies reminiscent of orbital eccentricity and containing an oligotrophic Barremian benthic and planktic assemblage, dominated by k-selected nannoconids and Rhizammina; (b) greenish-grey cherty marls of the lowermost Marne a Fucoidi Formation, associated to declining sedimentation rates and eutrophic early Aptian assemblages dominated by radiolarians and lituolid benthic foraminifera; and (c) anoxic radiolarites and shales of the carbonate-free Selli Level. High magnitude and frequency assemblage fluctuations occur between the nannoconid crisis (~25 cm below the lowermost OAE 1a black shale layer) and the Selli Level base, with suggestions of bottom-water acidification. At ~800 kyr after the OAE 1a end, a third turnover point in the basal reddish member of the Marne a Fucoidi highlights ‘middle’ Aptian assemblages characterized by a bloom of early macroperforate planktic foraminifera (Hedbergella spp.) and appearances of new benthic species, marking a shift towards better oxygenation.
OAE 1a oxygen and pelagic carbonate factory crises are here suggested to have been step-wise and linked to global warming conditions.