Late Cretaceous to early Quaternary organic sedimentation in the eastern Equatorial Atlantic

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Reconstructing the long-term evolution of organic sedimentation in the eastern Equatorial Atlantic (ODP Leg 159) provides information about the history of the climate/ocean system, sediment accumulation, and deposition of hydrocarbon-prone rocks. The recovery of a continuous, 1200 m long sequence at ODP Site 959 covering sediments from Albian (?) to the present day (about 120 Ma) makes this position a key location to study these aspects in a tropical oceanic setting. New high resolution carbon and pyrolysis records identify three main periods of enhanced organic carbon accumulation in the eastern tropical Atlantic, i.e. the late Cretaceous, the Eocene-Oligocene, and the Pliocene-Pleistocene. Formation of Upper Cretaceous black shales off West Africa was closely related to the tectonosedimentary evolution of the semi-isolated Deep Ivorian Basin north of the Cote d'Ivoire-Ghana Transform Margin. Their deposition was confined to certain intervals of the last two Cretaceous anoxic events, the early Turonian OAE2 and the Coniacian-Santonian OAE3. Organic geochemical characteristics of laminated Coniacian-Santonian shales reveal peak organic carbon concentrations of up to 17% and kerogen type I/II organic matter, which qualify them as excellent hydrocarbon source rocks, similar to those reported from other marginal and deep sea basins. A middle to late Eocene high productivity period occurred off equatorial West Africa. Porcellanites deposited during that interval show enhanced total organic carbon (TOC) accumulation and a good hydrocarbon potential associated with oil-prone kerogen. Deposition of these TOC-rich beds was likely related to a reversal in the deep-water circulation in the adjacent Sierra Leone Basin. Accordingly, outflow of old deep waters of Southern Ocean origin from the Sierra Leone Basin into the northern Gulf of Guinea favored upwelling of nutrient-enriched waters and simultaneously enhanced the preservation potential of sedimentary organic matter along the West African continental margin. A pronounced cyclicity in the carbon record of Oligocene-lower Miocene diatomite-chalk interbeds indicates orbital forcing of paleoceanographic conditions in the eastern Equatorial Atlantic since the Oligocene-Miocene transition. A similar control may date back to the early Oligocene but has to be confirmed by further studies. Latest Miocene-early Pliocene organic carbon deposition was closely linked to the evolution of the African trade winds, continental upwelling in the eastern Equatorial Atlantic, ocean chemistry and eustatic sea level fluctuations. Reduction in carbonate carbon preservation associated with enhanced carbon dissolution is recorded in the uppermost Miocene (5.82-5.2 Ma) section and suggests that the latest Miocene carbon record of Site 959 documents the influence of corrosive deep waters which formed in response to the Messinian Salinity Crisis. Furthermore, sea level-related displacement of higher productive areas towards the West African shelf edge is indicated at 5.65, 5.6, 5.55, 5.2, 4.8 Ma. In view of humid conditions in tropical Africa and a strong West African monsoonal system around the Miocene-Pliocene transition, the onset of pronounced TOC cycles at about 5.6 Ma marks the first establishment of upwelling cycles in the northern Gulf of Guinea. An amplification in organic carbon deposition at 3.3 Ma and 2.45 Ma links organic sedimentation in the tropical eastern Equatorial Atlantic to the main steps of northern hemisphere glaciation and testifies to the late Pliocene transition from humid to arid conditions in central and western African climate.

Aridification of central Africa around 2.8 Ma is not clearly recorded at Site 959. However, decreased and highly fluctuating carbonate carbon concentrations are observed from 2.85 Ma on that may relate to enhanced terrigenous (eolian) dilution from Africa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-147
Number of pages35
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2002


  • Equatorial Atlantic
  • organic carbon
  • Cretaceous
  • Paleogene
  • Neogene
  • Rock-Eval
  • hydrocarbon potential
  • paleoclimate
  • paleoproductivity
  • ODP LEG 159


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