Why barren intervals? A taphonomic case study of the Scandinavian Alum Shale and its faunas

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The Scandinavian Alum Shale Formation (Middle Cambrian to Lower Ordovician) accumulated under generally low oxygen concentrations. Syndepositional changes in the oxygen concentrations of the bottom water are reconstructed on the basis of the fossil fauna. Under relatively high oxygen concentrations, brachiopods and non-olenid polymerid trilobites inhabited the sea floor. Under lower oxygen concentrations the fauna was dominated by agnostids and at lowest oxygen levels by olenid trilobites. The enrichments of vanadium relative to nickel, as well as the enrichment of sulphur, match these faunal changes. A geochemical classification of the dysoxic environment is presented. The abundance of calcareous fossils decreases with increasing bottom water oxygen concentrations, indicating that the preservation of calcareous hard parts is most likely at the lowest oxygen concentrations. The poor preservation of calcareous fossils at relatively high oxygen concentrations is explained by the generation of corrosive pore waters during the reoxidation of sulphide compounds. Trilobitic and non-trilobitic intervals alternate up through the shale. Non-trilobitic intervals are either barren or contain non-calcereous fossils (phosphatic brachiopods, phosphatic 'ostracodes' and graptolites). The stratigraphical variation of trilobitic and non-trilobitic intervals is interpreted to reflect major changes in oxygen levels that might be linked to sea-level and climatic fluctuations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-285
Number of pages15
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Brachiopods
  • Eustatic events
  • Geochemistry
  • Palaeoecology
  • Trilobites
  • V/(V + Ni) ratio

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 5: Nature and Climate


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