The Late Devonian period hosts a series of global biological extinction events of such magnitude as to be counted among the major mass extinctions of the Phanerozoic. Yet no consensus has yet been reached regarding the causative mechanisms of extinction and associated changes in marine sedimentation, biogeochemical cycling, sea level and climate. Testing of competing hypotheses for Late Devonian extinctions?which include sea-level fluctuations and regression, climatic cooling, ocean anoxia, bolide impact, and/or massive volcanism?is currently hampered by a lack of sufficient temporal resolution in paleobiological, tectonic and proxy climate records. In this study, a multi-disciplinary research team of paleontologists, biostratigraphers and isotope geochemists will combine high-precision U-Pb zircon geochronology on interstratified volcanic ash beds in key stratigraphic successions with quantitative biostratigraphy applied to a global Late Devonian multi-taxa database compiled from the literature and new high-resolution sampling. The U-Pb geochronology will utilize the chemical abrasion and EARTHTIME quadruple spike isotope dilution methods to measure ca 0.1 Ma resolution ages, which will calibrate the construction of the first highly resolved composite standard for the Late Devonian via constrained optimization. With this high resolution age model the research team will interrogate several fundamental questions relating to the abruptness of the late Devonian biotic events, their global synchrony, and process drivers. Specific hypotheses to be addressed include the synchrony and causality between extraterrestrial impacts or massive volcanism and biotic crises, whether the rates of associated eustatic rise and fall and fluctuations in proxy records of carbon cycling and temperature are consistent with Milankovich-band orbital forcing, and if feedbacks between climate, glacioeustasy, ocean anoxia, and the carbon cycle caused the Late Devonian biotic crises. This research will impact STEM human resource development via participation of undergraduate students in a multi-disciplinary international science team; develop international scientific collaborations; support the science mission of the EARTHTIME geochronology initiative, and its associated inreach and outreach programs; provide fundamentally improved chronologies for numerous other Paleozoic climate studies; and improve our understanding of deep time climate state transitions potentially analogous to those leading to our current icehouse. The scientific process and content of the proposed research will be captured by a parallel NSF-funded STEM education initiative developing a series of web-based learning objects to teach the science of geochronology and Earth history.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Earth Sciences (EAR)
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H. Richard Lane
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Boise State University
United States
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