Precisely dating the Frasnian–Famennian boundary: implications for the cause of the Late Devonian mass extinction
The Frasnian–Famennian boundary records one of the most catastrophic mass extinctions of the Phanerozoic Eon. Several possible causes for this extinction have been suggested, including extra-terrestrial impacts and large-scale volcanism. However, linking the extinction with these potential causes is hindered by the lack of precise dating of either the extinction or volcanic/impact events. In this study, a bentonite layer in uppermost-Frasnian sediments from Steinbruch Schmidt (Germany) is re-analysed using CA-ID-TIMS U-Pb zircon geochronology in order to constrain the date of the Frasnian–Famennian extinction. A new age of 372.36 ± 0.053 Ma is determined for this bentonite, confirming a date no older than 372.4 Ma for the Frasnian–Famennian boundary, which can be further constrained to 371.93–371.78 Ma using a pre-existing Late Devonian age model. This age is consistent with previous dates, but is significantly more precise. When compared with published ages of the Siljan impact crater and basalts produced by large-scale volcanism, there is no apparent correlation between the extinction and either phenomenon, not clearly supporting them as a direct cause for the Frasnian–Famennian event. This result highlights an urgent need for further Late Devonian geochronological and chemostratigraphic work to better understand the cause(s) of this extinction.