Strontium Isotope Chronostratigraphic Age of a Sirenian Fossil Site on Santa Rosa Island, Channel Islands National Park, California

Scientific Investigations Report 2023-5026
Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. National Park Service
By: , and 



Fossils in the order Sirenia (family Dugongidae) from Santa Rosa Island, part of Channel Islands National Park in southern California, provide rare temporal and spatial links between earlier and later evolutionary forms of dugongids, and add information about their dispersal into the northeastern Pacific region. Marine sedimentary rocks containing these fossils have characteristics of both the late Oligocene to middle Miocene Vaqueros Sandstone and the early to middle Miocene Rincon formation observed elsewhere. To determine a more precise age of the fossils, marine invertebrate shells were collected from the same exposures as the sirenian fossils for chronostratigraphic assessment using strontium isotope compositions and the well-calibrated seawater strontium evolution curve. Shells used for analysis were from bivalve mollusks (Pycnodonte sp. [oyster] and Lyropecten sp. [scallop]) and crustaceans (Balanus sp. [barnacle]). Results show a wide range of 87Sr/86Sr values, indicating that shell materials experienced varying degrees of diagenetic alteration. Strontium concentrations and 87Sr/86Sr values in subsamples of Pycnodonte shell show correlations between original shell material and a secondary component having lower strontium concentrations and less radiogenic (lower) 87Sr/86Sr. In contrast, all Lyropecten shell analyses yielded a uniform 87Sr/86Sr value (0.708440±0.000010 [2× standard deviation]) over a wide range of strontium concentrations (around 900 to 1,800 micrograms per gram [μg/g]). Results for Balanus shell subsamples show a range of strontium compositional behavior between the other two types of shell. Acetic acid leachates of sandy matrix confirm that diagenetic fluids had low 87Sr/86Sr values consistent with the least radiogenic values in Pycnodonte subsamples. A simple mixing model between two calcite end-members can explain observed Pycnodonte data, although actual diagenetic processes likely involved secondary dissolution/reprecipitation or strontium ion exchange between shell material and pore fluid. Data indicate that only Lyropecten subsamples have retained their original 87Sr/86Sr compositions, resulting in a best-estimate age of 20.08±0.11 million years ago (Ma) (±95-percent confidence interval [CI]). Although Dugongidae fossils have been found in Miocene and younger sediments along the west coast of North America, the Santa Rosa Island specimens represent some of the earliest and most accurately dated sirenian fossils in the region. Chronostratigraphic results also constrain the timing of the transgressional processes represented by shallow-water (Vaqueros Sandstone) to deep-water (Rincon formation) depositional environments.

Suggested Citation

Paces, J.B., Minor, S.A., Schmidt, K.M., and Hoffman, J., 2023, Strontium isotope chronostratigraphic age of a sirenian fossil site on Santa Rosa Island, Channel Islands National Park, California: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2023–5026, 27 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Geologic Context
  • Samples
  • Analytical Methods
  • Results and Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Strontium isotope chronostratigraphic age of a sirenian fossil site on Santa Rosa Island, Channel Islands National Park, California
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2023-5026
DOI 10.3133/sir20235026
Year Published 2023
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center
Description Report: vii, 27 p.; Data Release
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial Santa Rosa Island
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details