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Open-File Report 2010-1323

Geochemical Characteristics of Holocene Laminated Sapropel (Unit II) and Underlying Lacustrine Unit III in the Black Sea

By Walter E. Dean1 and Michael A. Arthur2

1U.S. Geological Survey, MS 980 Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225.
2Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802.

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Leg 1 of the 1988 R/V Knorr expeditions to the Black Sea recovered 90 gravity and box cores. The longest recovery by gravity cores was about 3 meters, with an average of about 2.5 meters, recovering all of the Holocene and upper Pleistocene sections in the Black Sea. During the latest Pleistocene glaciation, sea level dropped below the 35-meters-deep Bosporus outlet sill of the Black Sea. Therefore throughout most of its history the Black Sea was a lake, and most of its sediments are lacustrine.

The oldest sediments recovered (older than 8,000 calendar years) consist of massive to coarsely banded lacustrine calcareous clay designated as lithologic Unit III, generally containing less than 1 percent organic carbon (OC). The base of overlying Unit II marks the first incursion of Mediterranean seawater into the Black Sea, and the onset of bottom-water anoxia about 7,900 calendar years. Unit II contains as much as 15 percent OC in cores from the deepest part of the Black Sea (2,200 meters). The calcium carbonate (CaCO3) remains of the coccolith Emiliania huxleyi form the distinctive white laminae of overlying Unit I.

The composition of Unit III and Unit II sediments are quite different, reflecting different terrigenous clastic sources and increased contributions from hydrogenous and biogenic components in anoxic Unit II sapropel. In Unit II, positive covariance between OC and three trace elements commonly concentrated in OC-rich sediments where sulfate reduction has occurred (molybdenum, nickel, and vanadium) and a nutrient (phosphorus) suggest a large marine source for these elements although nickel and vanadium also have a large terrigenous clastic source. The marine sources may be biogenic or hydrogenous. A large biogenic source is also suggested for copper and cobalt. Because abundant pyrite forms in the water column and sediments of the Black Sea, we expected to find a large hydrogenous iron component, but a strong covariance of iron with aluminum suggests that the dominant source of iron is from terrigenous clastic material. Most elements in lacustrine Unit III sediments have a strong covariance with Al indicating a very dominant terrigenous source. In Unit II, some elements, especially nickel, molybdenum, vanadium, and zinc, do not correlate with aluminum and have concentrations well above terrigenous clastic material, indicating a marine source.

First posted January 10, 2011

For additional information contact:

USGS Geology and Environmental Change Science Center
Box 25046, Mail Stop 980
Denver, CO 80225

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Suggested citation:

Dean, W.E., and Arthur, M.A., 2011, Geochemical characteristics of Holocene laminated sapropel (unit II) and underlying lacustrine unit III in the Black Sea: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2010–1323, 29 p.



Introduction and Background


Carbonate and Organic Carbon Stratigraphies—Definition of Lithologic Units

Ages of Lithologic Units

Distribution of Inorganic Elements

Summary—Development of Anoxia in the Black Sea




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