Enhanced magnetization of the Marlboro Clay as a product of soil pyrogenesis at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary?

Kent, Dennis V.; Lanci, Luca; Wang, Huapei; Wright, James

The kaolinite-rich Marlboro Clay was deposited on the inner shelf in the Salisbury Embayment of the U.S. Atlantic margin at the onset of the carbon isotope excursion marking the 56 Ma Paleocene– Eocene boundary and is characterized by an anomalously high concentration of magnetic nanoparticles of enigmatic origin that give rise to notably intense bulk magnetization. Recent studies point to a magnetic assemblage that is dominated by single-domain magnetite particles that tend to be isolated rather than arranged in chains, the most distinguishing feature of magnetotactic bacteria fossils. On the other hand, it is very unlikely that the nanoparticles can be condensates of an impact plume given the meter-scale thickness of the Marlboro Clay. We obtained new data from a landward proximal site at Wilson Lake on the New Jersey Coastal Plain and find that the abrupt increase in magnetite nanoparticles is virtually coincident stratigraphically with the recently reported impact spherule layer at the base of the Marlboro Clay in the same core. Yet the high field magnetic susceptibility, a measure of total iron concentration, and strontium isotope values on bulk sediment, an indicator of sediment weathering provenance, are not different in the Marlboro Clay from the immediately underlying Vincentown Formation. We suggest that the distinctive magnetic properties of the Marlboro Clay originated from pyromagnetic soil enhancement by widespread wildfires on the adjoining drainage area. The pyrogenetic products were soon washed from the denuded landscape and rapidly deposited as mud-waves across the shelf, becoming the Marlboro Clay. A few percent of incinerated biomass ends up as calcite known as wood ash stone and can inherit its light carbon isotope composition. Disseminated wood ash stone entrained in the Marlboro Clay could contribute to the landward increase in amplitude of the carbon isotope excursion in bulk carbonate data. A plausible trigger for the initial conflagration is a fireball from the impact of a sizable extraterrestrial object at moderate range.


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Also Published In

Earth and Planetary Science Letters

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Biology and Paleo Environment
Published Here
October 10, 2018