Partial collapse of the marine carbon pump after the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary

Heather S. Birch, Helen K. Coxall, Paul N. Pearson, Dick Kroon, Daniela N. Schmidt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Deep sea famine after the end-Cretaceous mass extinction The global catastrophe that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs also devastated ocean ecosystems. Giant marine reptiles met their end as did various types of invertebrates such as the iconic ammonites. A new study of the aftermath shows that it took marine ecosystems nearly two million years to recover – but even that is less severe than was previously thought.

The research, led by Cardiff University PhD student Heather Birch, is based on a drill core from the bottom of the South Atlantic. Prof Dick Kroon from the University of Edinburgh was Co-Chief scientist during the drilling cruise (leg 208 of the International Ocean Discovery Programme). This core contains sea-floor sediments that were laid down during these tumultuous events. A detailed reconstruction of what happened comes from the fossilized shells of microscopic creatures that lived as plankton near the ocean surface and on the sea floor. Chemical analysis of these shells reveals how effectively sinking marine organic matter was delivered from the surface ocean to the deep, a sign of a healthy ecosystem.

The results show that despite a wave of massive and virtually instantaneous extinctions among the plankton there was never a total destruction of marine life on the deep ocean floor as some had previously thought. Some forms of algae and creatures further up the food chain managed to hang on at the surface, as did creatures that depend on their sinking remains for food. Even so it took almost two million years before the deep sea food supply was fully restored as new species evolved to occupy ecological niches vacated by extinct forms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287–290
Issue number4
Early online date9 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2016


Dive into the research topics of 'Partial collapse of the marine carbon pump after the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this