Rare earth element proxy for distinguishing marine versus freshwater Ediacaran fossils


  • Gregory Retallack Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, USA 97403-1272




REE, Ediacaran, palaeosalinity, vendobiont, Newfoundland


Ediacaran fossils and sedimentary rocks are controversial for whether they are marine or non-marine, and this study applies the test of light rare earth over heavy rare earth weight ratios (LYREE/HYREE) to a variety of Ediacaran siliciclastic and carbonate fossil matrices. Holocene soils have light-YREE-enriched arrays (LYREE/HYREE>4.8) and modern deep marine clays have heavy-YREE-enriched arrays (LYREE/HYREE<2.7). Flat arrays of fluvial and shallow marine siliciclastic sediments (LYREE/HYREE 2.7-4.8) are indistinguishable by this proxy. This proxy has been applied to a variety of Ediacaran and Cambrian rocks, for which confounding provenance effects were minimized by comparing marine and non-marine pairs within the same formations. Many samples were within the ambiguous zone (LYREE/HYREE 2.7-4.8), but Ediacaran red beds from Newfoundland, and some beds from China, Namibia, central and South Australia showed diagnostic continental, terrestrial LYREE/HYREE weight ratios of 4.8 to 11.3. A grey tempestite from Newfoundland, a grey sandstone from California, and grey dolostones from Australia and Namibia showed marine LYREE/HYREE weight ratios of 2.7 or less, from the same provenance as terrestrial samples. This new criterion for distinguishing marine from non-marine Ediacaran rocks is supported also by boron content, Ge/Si ratios, and eolian interbeds. Furthermore, new analyses correctly interpreted trilobite and Cloudina beds as marine. One surprisingly secure result is that fossiliferous Ediacaran rocks of Newfoundland were not formed in a deep ocean, but on coastal plains. Some fossiliferous Newfoundland beds have LYREE/HYREE weight ratios of as much as 6.0-11.3, found only in paleosols.


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How to Cite

Retallack, G. (2024). Rare earth element proxy for distinguishing marine versus freshwater Ediacaran fossils. Journal of Palaeosciences, 73(1), 67–91. https://doi.org/10.54991/jop.2024.1874



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