Gigantic Ordovician volcanic ash fall in North America and Europe: Biological, tectonomagmatic, and event-stratigraphic significance
Biostratigraphical, geochemical, isotopic, and paleogeographic data suggest that the Millbrig K-bentonite, one of the thickest and most widespread Ordovician volcanic ash beds in eastern North America, is the same as the so-called "Big Bentonite" in Baltoscandia. This is the first time that the same K-bentonite has been identified in both North America and Europe, and it serves as a unique event-stratigraphic marker over a large portion of the Northern Hemisphere. This eruption produced at least 340 km3of dense-rock-equivalent ash that was deposited in a layer up to 1-2 m thick over several million square kilometres. As much as 800 km3 of additional ash may have fallen into the Iapetus Ocean, for a total of 1140 km3. Trace element geochemistry shows that the ash was derived from a felsic cale-alkalic magmatic source characteristic of volcanism in a continental crust-based, destructive plate-margin setting. This is one of the largest, if not the largest, ash falls recorded in Earth's Phanerozoic stratigraphic record, but its recognizable effect on faunas and floras was minimal, and it did not result in a global extinction event. The Millbrig-Big Bentonite bed provides accurate time control for sedimentologic, paleoecologic, and paleogeographic reconstructions across plates positioned in tropical (Laurentia) and temperate (Baltica) latitudes during Middle Ordovician time.